Stop this day and night with me
by Te
June 21, 2004

Disclaimers: Nothing here is mine; I'm just a fangirl.

Spoilers: All sorts of small and large things for
various titles. Most of the large things are from
the current run of Robin, but there are also refs to
Outsiders and Green Arrow, among other things.

Summary: Families, road trips, bad food, and
the surprisingly pleasant side effects of being a
real boy.

Ratings Note: NC-17.

Author's Note: Bas wibbled about Connor, and
the cuteness of Connor and Tim. Livia provided
a bunny. Te surrendered.

More notes at end.

Acknowledgments: To Jack, LC, and Livia for
audiencing, encouragement, and helpful
suggestions. To too many people to count for
putting up with my whining.

*

It takes a moment to recognize the girl.

While part of him wants to chastise himself for the
lapse, he also can't entirely blame himself. For one,
the picture isn't the best -- grainy, blurred, and
taken while the girl was clearly in motion.

For another, the last time he'd seen Stephanie, she
hadn't been wearing a Robin suit.

It's disconcerting to say the least. Star City is far
from Gotham, and he hasn't spoken with Robin --
the Robin *he* knows -- in quite some time.
However, he also hadn't been especially worried.

While his e-mail correspondence with Robin had
*been* extremely regular (and something to look
forward to), he'd assumed the long silence had more
to do with Robin's rather extreme lack of free time
than with anything... *bad*. And, truth to tell, he'd
been busy enough in the last several months that
he'd almost forgotten about it.

He'd left himself a mental note to try sending
another letter at some point, but that point had not,
actually, arrived before... this.

He blinks at the photo, and studies it more closely.

When he'd met Stephanie, her form had not been
quite so noticeably practiced, and Robin had
chastised her for continuing to work as the Spoiler
in Gotham. She'd clearly been unsanctioned, if (in
his brief acquaintance) no younger or more notably
reckless than any of the other young heroes he'd
met over the past few years.

He'd... dismissed it, at the time -- the fact that it
wasn't his place to intervene perhaps not so
important within his own mind as the fact that it
was almost certainly *Batman's*.

And... he doesn't want to jump to conclusions.

If Robin had been injured and forced to take a leave
of absence, surely someone would have heard
*something*. Nightwing would know, and would
almost certainly talk to Roy about it, and Roy would
almost certainly talk about it to... well, him, if he'd
asked, but mostly Roy would've talked about it
with *everyone*, unless it was something deeply
personal.

It's certainly possible that *something*... personal
had occurred, but...

"... the *hell*? Christ, what's the ghoul up to this
time?" His father snatches the newspaper out of
his hands and glares at it.

It would be fair to assume that his father, at least,
is equally surprised. "I was hoping *you'd* know
more about this, Dad."

"Oh, *now* they're talking about Batman
endangering kids. Jesus Christ. Son, if I never
make you learn anything else, please let it be
this -- the only difference between a reporter and
a vulture is the feathers."

Connor sips his tea and thinks about mentioning
Roy.

"God, I can't *believe* this tripe. Just because this
kid's -- this *Robin* is a girl, they're going nuts?
Unbelievable."

The sexism. Well, that makes more sense. "I have
to admit, I hadn't paid much attention to the text,
as of yet."

"Eh?" His father peers at him over the top of the
newspaper. "Oh, you and Robin -- the old Robin --
knew each other?"

"Yes, which is why --" Connor cuts himself off to
allow his father time to crumple the newspaper
angrily, then smooth it out and put it in the recycle
bin. "Why I was wondering if you'd heard
anything."

His father stops muttering what sounds like a truly
inspiring string of curses and looks at him again.
"They're bats, son. Ghouls and uncommunicative
sonsabitches at the *best* of times."

"Robin hadn't seemed --"

"Now *that's* a creepy kid, right there." His father
scratches idly at his beard. "Don't know him all
that well, understand, but he certainly gave the Bat
a run for his money in terms of personality. Or
distinct lack *thereof*, as the case may be."

"I hadn't gotten that impression, Dad. Actually,
Robin --"

"You probably didn't know him long enough," his
father says, half-buried in the cabinets. "Now what
did I do with the *coffee*? Strike that, what did
*Mia* do with the coffee?"

"I believe she put it in the refrigerator, so it
would stay fresh, but Dad --"

"In the fridge. Right, of *course*. Because every
sane person sticks coffee in the damned fridge."

"Dad --"

"I swear to God, Connor, you think she could've
*mentioned* this --"

"Dad, I'm *worried*. About Robin. The... former
Robin."

*That* makes his father pause. And look back
over his shoulder. "You two were pals?"

The words are right, but there's a sort of surprise
and cautiousness in the tone that Connor has
come to know and fear. "We'd been exchanging
e-mails," he says quickly, "since the Brotherhood
of the Fist matter. He's a very promising martial
artist. We... hit it off."

His father nods, slowly and consideringly. "E-mails.
Hunh. Well, I suppose it makes sense with the guy
across country. And you haven't heard from
him...?"

Something tells Connor that he had, perhaps, not
done enough to forestall suspicion. He'll deal with
it later. "Not in quite some time. And... I'm not
sure how to contact him. Which is why I was
wondering if, perhaps, you'd heard anything.
Perhaps from the League?"

His father shakes his head. "Sorry, not a word. I
could ask?"

"Please."

His father claps him on the shoulder on the way
back from the refrigerator. "Just let me have my
coffee, son. I swear, you'd think those people never
heard of a damned phone."

Connor nods. "I'll try to send another e-mail."

His father grunts acknowledgment and stares at
the coffee machine, perhaps attempting to will it
to go faster.

The house is quiet, with Mia already on her way
to school, and Roy not due to visit for at least
another couple of weeks. Which means that the
house computer is absolutely free, which is a state
of affairs Connor has come to appreciate in the
last several months.

He's thought about purchasing one for his own
use, but there are always any number of things to
be done with his extra money, and he really
doesn't have all that *much* use for one.

Not anymore, at any rate.

He frowns to himself when he catches himself
waiting for a response -- near-instantaneous
transmission doesn't, of course, guarantee
near-instantaneous *communication* -- and is
about to head back to the kitchen when the
program beeps at him.

Perhaps...? But Robin *does* attend school, and
it's well after eleven on the East coast, and...

It's the form letter from his server. Robin's e-mail
address is no longer valid.

He frowns a little more, and checks to make sure
he hadn't mistyped, but the second e-mail gets
him the same 'response' as the first.

It *does* make sense. Stephanie -- Robin -- surely
has her own account. Several of them, considering
Batman's and his family's reliance on technology.
The fact that he's more worried now than he was
several minutes ago is irrational.

The fact that he's thinking about something his
father had said about his time in heaven, who he'd
seen there, and how much of a surprise it had
been...

Is even more worrying.

Batman is a good man -- Connor knows this, in his
bones. And if something *had* happened to Robin,
something terrible, he would surely grieve. Nothing
about his acquaintance with the man had
suggested he held Robin in anything less than the
highest regard.

And yet, it's also entirely too plausible that he
would feel continuing his mission -- and keeping his
secrets -- was far more important than informing
people about what had occurred.

Even Robin's friends.

And Roy *had* said that Nightwing had seemed
different lately. 'Grimmer,' was the word he'd used,
and --

"No dice?"

He manages not to jump at the feel of his father's
hand on his shoulder. "No. His e-mail account is no
longer valid."

His father grunts. "Just like that bastard. Efficiency
over *everything* else. Listen, I'm sure
everything's all right, Connor."

Are you? He swallows back the question as being
not particularly worth asking. "Did you get a
chance --"

"Yeah, Superman's on watch-duty right now. He's
just as surprised, actually."

"Oh. Is that..." It occurs to Connor that he doesn't
know Robin's real name. He'd gotten used to that.
Or he thought he had. "I mean..." He doesn't really
know what he means.

His father sighs and squeezes his shoulder. "What
that means is that Big Blue's probably going to
show up on Bats' doorstep demanding answers
sooner rather than later. They're friends. Kind of."

Connor nods slowly.

"You're really worried about the kid, hunh?"

"It... doesn't seem like him to disappear like this."

"Hm. I think I'm gonna have to take your word on
that."

"I know your experience with Batman and his
associates has been... less than positive."

His father laughs and claps him on the shoulder
again before letting go. "Huntress is about the best
of them. Chip on her shoulder like you wouldn't
*believe*, but still okay in my book." Another laugh.
"Of course, she's the one they *don't* like."

"Mm."

"Connor..." His father sighs. "Listen, I --" The
chirrup of the communicator interrupts him. "Man,
I hate these things..."

Connor watches him put it in his ear, watches him
scowl and knows that he's pretty much only
succeeded in making his father worry about *him*.

"Yeah, I'm here... uh, hunh... they *do* that?"

He works on being patient. It's usually not quite
this difficult.

"Right. Damn. Well, I'll tell him. I appreciate this,
Supes... right, you, too. Out."

"He flew right there?"

His father grins at him. "Teleported into the freaking
Batcave, actually. Sounds like your Robin has more
friends than I would've given the kid credit for.
Superman likes him, too. Of course, he likes
*everyone*, but... but you're looking at me like you
really *want* to interrupt the hell out of me, because
I'm taking too long. Here's the deal -- he retired."

Connor blinks. "He... oh."

"Yeah, 'oh.' He's perfectly healthy, he decided it was
time to quit the vigilante lifestyle, Batman had
informed the Titans when it happened, everything's
fine, and... well. You know the kid better than *I*
do, but I have to say it smells about as good as the
fish market after that blackout last month."

Connor isn't entirely sure *what* to think. "He...
doesn't strike me as the sort of person to make a
decision like this one without informing those he
was close to."

He can feel his father looking at him, and he thinks
he can *hear* what the man's thinking. Just the
same...

"You said *Batman* was the one who told the
Titans?"

"Yep. And from what Supes said about what
*Superboy* had said, the impression given was
that Robin was too busy in Gotham. None of them
have seen the kid in months."

"He'd mentioned the Titans in his last e-mail. He
seemed --"

His father puts his hands up. "Hey, now, you don't
have to share anything you don't want to."

Connor smiles ruefully. "We weren't lovers, Dad."

"I didn't *say* that. And there's nothing wrong
with it. And --"

"And I wasn't intending to share anything overly
personal, either. I was just going to say that he
seemed to be enjoying his time with the Titans,
especially the opportunity to spend time with the
friends he'd made in Young Justice. He..." He'd
*used* the word 'friends,' as opposed to allies,
or anything else.

He watches his father watch him with an
interesting mix of wariness and expectancy, and
doesn't really know how to express it, any of it.
Robin is -- *was* -- a Bat, in much the way his
father defined them.

That Connor himself doesn't find them especially
difficult to work with, or even to be around, has,
he's willing to admit, more to do with who *he*
is than with who they are. Though Robin is...
had been...

'Different' isn't really the word, even though it
feels that way. He shrugs, more than a little
helplessly. "I think you're right about... well,
about this not *feeling* right, Dad. I'm tempted
to go to Gotham, myself, even though --"

"When are you leaving?"

"I... what?"

"You're worried about your... your friend, and
you don't think you've gotten the whole story.
The way I see it, you can either get Dinah to
hook you up with Oracle, or you can go see for
*yourself*."

It's patently obvious which option his father
favors, but... "Don't you think it seems
presumptuous? Especially --"

"With the ghoul?" His father narrows his eyes.
"Listen, if he gives you any trouble --"

"I really don't think I should give the two of you
any more reason for... mutual animosity." Connor
smiles a little.

"Hmm. Well, you *could* always track down the
girl. One thing about Robins -- they're not that
difficult to spot. And she might be friendlier."

"I... she's Robin's girlfriend. Er... or. I'm not sure,
actually."

"You know her, too? And a girlfriend?"

His father *could* work to sound a little less
surprised. "Well, I didn't get the chance to spend
much time with her, but --"

"Listen, Connor. If they *are* still dating -- or
whatever the hell Bats *do* -- she'll know what's
going on with your friend." His father gives him
a conspiratorial look. "If they aren't? She'll know
even *more*."

"Er... why?"

"Trust me on this one. Now let's get you to the
airport."

*

Connor settles back in his seat and works on
meditating. The airport had been... stressful. In
very expected ways.

Of *course* his father would demand Connor
get a seat on the first direct flight into Gotham,
and of *course* he'd demand Connor went first
class. It's not that he doesn't appreciate the
effort, or understand it -- his father had the sort
of ideas about friendship that Connor tended to
reserve for increasingly hypothetical romance -- it
was just more than a little embarrassing.

The ticket agents had been glaring at *both* of
them by the time Connor had registered, and,
judging by the wary looks the flight attendants
have given him, had warned their associates.

It would be entirely for the best if he spent as
much of the flight quiet, calm, and meek as milk.

This could very well be the first flight he'd ever
taken during which not a single flight attendant
(or pilot, considering what had happened the last
time) attempted to share their phone number,
home address, or hotel room key.

The idea is a relaxing one. He doesn't really enjoy
turning people down, and he was beginning to
wonder if such things could become... reflexive.
He has a vague, faceless image in his mind of
some wonderful person, someone who cared
about him very deeply and with whom the feeling
was mutual.

They would proposition him, and before he could
even think about, he'd smile and say "no, thank
you." And perhaps leave. It really is distressingly
plausible.

Still, that doesn't have anything to do with *this*
trip, and even though he's not entirely sure how
he'd gone from the computer desk to this
shockingly comfortable seat several miles in the
air... he had.

And he *will* find Robin, and find out for himself
what's going on.

If nothing else, he's quite sure that any
information he receives -- and which could be
shared without breaking confidences -- would be
appreciated by everyone else who cares about
Robin.

Why, even Superman...

Connor sighs to himself. He doesn't *know*
Superman, and Superman could already *be*
wherever Robin lives. Superman almost certainly
knows his real *name*, and Superman is the
last person who would need *his* help.

The Titans are the second to last, and... this has
absolutely nothing to do with them.

His friend is missing, and he's worried, and he's
more than a little irritated. There were any number
of ways Connor could be reached, and Robin knew
every last *one* of them, and...

It's entirely possible that his attitudes toward
friendship are more like his father's than he
would've considered.

Connor smiles to himself and closes his eyes. It
will be hours before he arrives in Gotham, and
he doesn't have much faith in his ability to, say,
take a nap before hitting the streets in search of
Stephanie.

Robin.

It will probably be a very, very long night.

*

The sun goes down before Connor is done
re-familiarizing himself with the city in anything
like a meaningful way.

It would, of course, have been impossible to do
it *completely*, or even mostly, but... Gotham
is very unlike Star City. It's older, and not even
remotely designed for the eight million people
who've come to live here. It's loud, dirty, and
the sort of terrible things that happen here have
always seemed entirely believable.

In daylight even more than at night, though he
knows that's irrational.

Still, he knows he'll *feel* better once rush hour
is over, and a significant portion of the population
is safely indoors.

When it's quieter and, yes, more dangerous --
especially the neighborhoods he plans to focus
on.

When Connor had asked whether Gotham had
as many 'bad' areas as Star City, or if things
were more generalized (he's not alone -- he's
never had a conversation with anyone about
Gotham City that hasn't included some mention
or another of the other person's firm belief that
the entire city was, at best, a poorly maintained
septic tank), he'd never expected Robin to give
him the sort of detailed information he had.
Robin had seemed to see it as a challenge, or
perhaps even something like an assignment he'd
never be able to hand in to anyone in particular.

Or... it's difficult to describe. Those were just a
few of the many e-mails he'd received from
Robin that left Connor wanting to see his face,
and hear his voice. He could -- and had --
imagined it --

The excitement, the truly impressive degree of
*thought* that had gone into it, and thus the
way it would come out with a sort of thoughtless
*confidence*, but...

He wanted to know -- he *still* wants to know --
if it would sound like as much of an invitation as
it had *felt* like. There had always been a faint
sense of "come back and visit, let me *show*
you what it's like." He'd wanted to, of course. He
knows he's been remarkably lucky in the many
partners he's worked with since leaving the
ashram, lucky even *before* his father had
come back to life.

However, there was something entirely different
about working with Robin. A sense of curious
mutuality, of... something.

Connor pauses on a rooftop overlooking... many,
many more rooftops. There's a blank spot to the
east, just beyond the reach of his vision without
binoculars. If he were in Star City, it would
probably turn out to be the site of some new,
incomplete construction, or perhaps even a park.

Here... he feels no need to pull out his
binoculars, because the sight would undoubtedly
be a depressing one. It has been nearly two
years since the earthquake, and there are still
parts of the city that have not yet even begun
rebuilding. He'll be headed there soon enough,
if he doesn't find Robin -- or *get* found --
first.

Unsurprisingly, many of the areas Robin had
spoken about as being particularly troublesome
are those which suffered the heaviest damage.
And... two years isn't a *long* time, especially
since even the most unscrupulous developers
must be inclined to show at least a *little* care
for the properties they build, now that everyone
knows precisely how vulnerable the area is to
disaster.

And yet there's something more than a little
terrible about seeing a building where rubble
has been left long enough for weeds to grow,
for graffiti to grow old and faded.

A reminder of everything they -- everyone
outside of Gotham -- had *not* done to help,
when things were at their worst.

He'd asked Robin about No Man's Land, of
course. Connor thinks everyone who knew
someone who'd stayed in Gotham during that
terrible year *must* have asked. And while
Robin had never been especially reticent about
things that had nothing obvious to do with his
and his family's secrets -- enough so that such
silences were very, very noticeable in ways he'd
tried not to think about too deeply -- he'd never
spoken in much detail about his time in Gotham
after the quake.

It had always been one of the things he'd hoped
to be able to listen to sometime in the future,
when, perhaps, he'd have the freedom to take
Robin up on his original invitation.

Or when Robin had been able to take him up on
his own.

Connor shakes his head. It had felt very strange
to have to be reminded of the fact that even
without Robin's teams and responsibilities to
Gotham itself, he still wouldn't have been *able*
to visit Connor randomly.

That he had a family other than the family he
worked with, and from whom he had to keep
secrets. In truth, the idea had seemed terrible,
and more than a little mind-boggling. However,
he understood that his *own* family situation
is closer to the exception than the rule, and
tended to assume -- when he thought about it
at all -- that it was just one of those things that
people who grew up entirely *of* the world at
large would have an easier time getting used to
than he could quite comprehend.

However...

It was possible -- probable, even -- that all of
this would turn out to be nothing more nor less
than the inevitable result of a good, kind young
man deciding that the price of the secrets he
kept was just too high. That his blood family
was too important to risk for his *other* family,
and that...

That he couldn't pick up a phone.

Connor keeps moving.

He's wearing his Green Arrow uniform, but only
for ease of movement than anything else. It's a
little strange -- but not very -- that people tend to
pay less attention to people hopping around
rooftops when they're in strange, armored
costumes than when they're in civvies. He's
become used to the convenience of strangers
paying far more attention to his mask and his bow
than anything else, but he really doesn't want to
actually *patrol* here.

It would be rankest discourtesy, for one thing --
given what he's come to learn about how the
other heroes tend to view 'their' cities -- and for
another...

Gotham isn't Star City, and its charms are far less
intriguing without Robin at his side to point them
out, or to watch him noticing. Robin is...
watchful.

And somewhere in this city even *now*.

The thought's thrilling in an uncomfortable way. It
isn't that he thinks Robin lives in these
neighborhoods -- though it would be an excellent
way to study their crime concentrations, and
rather an excellent cover and... he pauses on a
fire escape.

A large, scarred tom glares at him balefully.

Connor considers attempting to be friendly to it.

It hisses at him.

Connor... keeps moving.

And he *didn't* intend to patrol, and he really
isn't, but Robin hadn't been wrong about the sort
of neighborhoods he'd pointed out as deserving
extra attention, and it's not like he can just
*ignore* drug sales. Or muggings. Or not do his
best to avert a drunken brawl, though frankly
he's now exceedingly glad that he'd packed an
extra pair of boots.

He walks through a puddle, and the smell gets...
well, not better. But different.

He makes his way through the city, and the night
gets darker, quieter and louder at the same time.
More music than he can classify, and enough
different languages that Connor considers going
back to school. He doesn't want to think of Gotham
as being anything other than just a different sort
of city than Star, but it's difficult.

There's a constant scream of sirens at varying
distances, and the distinct impression that he
could do a good night's work solely by picking a
random tenement and knocking on doors. And...
the signal never comes on.

There's nothing special about this night, nothing
especially dark or strange. At least, not for
Gotham's residents. He shoots a gun out of the
hand of a woman who appears to be either
mentally ill or extremely angry. She hadn't been
aiming at anyone in particular, and she runs
before Connor can get down from the roof.

He retrieves his arrow and makes a note to
sharpen the head when he gets a chance, kicks
the gun into a sewer, and wonders what it
would be like to be accustomed to this. When
there's a breeze, the air doesn't smell any
different than it would in any coastal city.

When there isn't...

When they'd worked together, Robin hadn't
seemed particularly different, or... affected may
be the better word. Affected by *this*.

And, if he's being honest with himself, the city
had not seemed so dark and ominous then.
Even on the trail of assassins, even with death
all around... perhaps that was the point.
Perhaps that sort of thing had become usual to
Robin, and so allowed him to be as calm and
friendly as he had been.

Or perhaps Robin simply enjoyed that sort of
excitement, and Connor himself had... what?
Allowed himself to ignore the realities of the
situation in order to enjoy *Robin's* enjoyment?

It wouldn't be out of character. There's
something intoxicating about another person's
happiness, something almost addictive. When
Roy comes to visit, Connor tends to find himself
in all sorts of strange and moderately terrifying
situations. It isn't that Roy forces him into it --
he wouldn't.

It's just that it's remarkably difficult to say 'no,'
when he knows -- *knows* -- that Roy will
find a way to take pleasure out of whatever
they do. And that pleasure will be infectious. It's...

Perhaps he's being selfish.

Perhaps he's simply trying to hold on too tightly
to a brief moment of happiness, and Robin had
only returned his e-mails to be polite. Connor
spent much of his life being trained in the ways
of letting go, in how to live a life unencumbered
by anything that would drag him away from
wisdom.

*Nothing* should be held too tightly, according
to some interpretations of Buddhism. According
to *most*, actually.

And while he might not have gotten on a plane
quite so quickly were it not for his father's
encouragement...

Connor climbs another fire escape, carefully and
silently as he can. Several of these have planters,
or children's toys, or other signs of family lives
that may not be happy, but are clearly at least
not apocalyptic.

He *is* here, and he hadn't needed much effort
to be convinced. He's going to have to give this a
great deal of thought. Sometime *after* he --

-- gets frightened out of his wits by Batgirl.
There's no telling how long she's been on this
rooftop, or following him. Robin's skills are
promising. Batgirl is the promise fulfilled.
"Hello."

She nods at him, and cocks her head.

"Oh. Well. I'm looking for Robin --"

"Hey, wait *up*. Jeez, Batgirl, you *know* I'm
still getting used to these jumplines and -- oh.
Hey."

Stephanie's voice, quiet but still recognizable.
Her hair is long and even more shockingly *bright*
than it had been in the photograph, and her suit...
is not very different at all from... the former
Robin's. He's going to have to get used to that
very, very quickly. The moonlight catches Batgirl's
face for a moment, and Connor is almost sure she's
smiling beneath her mask.

She nods again.

"Hello, Robin. I'm not sure if you remember me --"

"Sure," she says, and grins. "Green Arrow. Well...
the *other* Green Arrow now, I guess. What brings
you here?"

"Looking for you," Batgirl says, in a soft, even
voice.

Robin looks at Batgirl for a moment before turning
back to him, grin entirely gone just that fast. "Guess
*you* probably didn't expect this." Her mouth is a
hard line.

"Er... what?"

"When we met, I was still on the outs. Even T --
well. Even my *predecessor* was scolding me
about being Spoiler."

She's clearly speaking to Batgirl, but Batgirl doesn't
move, and she's out of the moonlight again, so
Connor can't even make even the slightest guess
about what her expression might be. "Robin --"

"Look, I don't really have time to prove myself to
everyone who shows up wondering how *I*
wound up in the suit, so maybe you should go
back to Seattle or wherever the hell you're from."

"Star City," Batgirl says, before Connor can.

Robin snorts. "The 'wherever the hell' implied --"

Batgirl looks at her again, and whatever's in *this*
look makes Robin turn away, just for a moment.
Connor isn't sure whether he should try saying
anything or not, but --

"Why are you here," Batgirl says.

"I just. I hadn't heard from... Robin's predecessor
in quite some time --"

"Join the freaking *club* -- ow." Robin backs off a
step from Batgirl, rubbing her shoulder.

"Um. I really don't mean to intrude. I was just..."
Connor stares at his own hands. He feels
ridiculous and out of place, and there are too
many things here he can't even begin to
understand. It's more than a little like being in
the same room with his father and Dinah.

"You're worried about him," Batgirl says, and
there isn't even the implication of a question.

"I... yes."

"And..." She trails off, cocking her head at him
again, and Connor has the distinct impression
of being stripped, measured, and analyzed. He
remembers a mention of 'body language,' and
wonders what he might be telling her. He takes a
breath and forces himself to look her in the face.

"I was hoping I could talk to him." He turns to
include Robin in the look, but she's still looking...
elsewhere.

"He's *not* Robin anymore," Robin says after a
long moment. To Batgirl. "Are we still supposed to
keep his secrets? I mean, seriously. Oracle could
probably hook this guy up in a heartbeat. Or we
could just *take* him there."

There. He wants... and Batgirl is looking at the
roof. "Batman," she says, and Robin snorts again.

"The only thing Batman wants to say about...
about *him* is how much better..." Robin frowns
and crosses her arms, and gives Connor a look
that's only blank because of her mask. "Look,
Green Arrow, if it was up to me, I'd just give
you his damned phone number and address. He
probably should talk to *someone*, and it really
isn't me. Not anymore. But --"

"Tell him."

Robin stares at Batgirl. "Wait, what? *You're* the
one --"

"He does. Need to... talk." Batgirl is still staring at
the roof.

"How do *you* -- wait, never mind, whatever. This
is me, so completely *not* asking. Green Arrow,
you got a piece of paper on you?"

Connor slips the notepad from the compartment on
his quiver and hands it to Robin. He's not asking,
either.

"Don't go like..." Batgirl gestures at his uniform.

"His family still doesn't know?"

Robin laughs. "Dude, that is *so* not the problem,"
she says, and gives the pad back to him before
rolling her shoulders and looking at Batgirl again.
"Patrol?"

Batgirl leaps off the roof without another word, and
Robin shoots off her grapple.

"Thank you," Connor says to their backs.

He's going to have to go back to his hotel to
change.

He wonders how problematic it would be to take
a taxi.

*

Robin's -- Tim's -- neighborhood is actually louder
than the ones Connor had been doing his best to
avoid patrolling. It's a different sort of noise,
however. None of the streetlights here are broken,
or even especially dim. The noise, for the most
part, is centered around a movie theater and the
surrounding restaurants.

It's a Thursday night, but there are a lot of young
people milling around just the same. The street
could be just about any in Star City, except for...

Well, except for nothing. It doesn't feel like
Gotham here. No one is fighting, and no one
appears to be in danger. Several people smile at
him.

He wonders how it feels and looks to Robin. If it
seems strange, or if he'd become used to the way
his apparent double-life just kept doubling around
him.

He... isn't entirely sure how he feels about the
prospect of calling Robin 'Tim' to his face, since
Robin had never offered his name. It seems more
than a little presumptuous, and it really is late in
the day to think something like that.

In a lot of ways.

Connor absently plucks the hem of his t-shirt out of
the hand of a young woman with rather *bright*
eyes and enters the building. The Drakes live only
a few floors up, so he skips the elevator, ignoring
the operator's strangely comforting sneer. It's
much quieter up here, and he wonders if it *is*
too late to visit and...

He decides to knock rather than ringing the bell.
Sleeping people would probably be able to ignore
a knock (and Tim would undoubtedly hear it,
anyway).

A man not much older in appearance than his own
father answers the door. No, rips open the door,
really, because --

"Who are you?"

"Hello, my name is Connor Hawke. I was wondering
if I could speak to... Tim."

The man narrows his eyes at him. They're faintly
bloodshot, and a closer look reveals that he
apparently hasn't shaved today. The line of his
jaw is deeply familiar, as well as the shape of his
brow.

"Er... if that's all right, Mr. Drake?"

Drake's look gets even more hostile for a moment,
more *measuring*. "Which one are you?"

"Pardon?"

"I don't have time for games, young man. You
so-called heroes..." Drake's face twists into
something pained and ugly before smoothing out
into something blankly aggressive. "He isn't here."

"I... sir?"

Drake's hand tightens on the door, tightens enough
that his knuckles are white. "He isn't *here*. Are
you happy now? Tim's gone. Why don't you ask
*Batman* where he is, because. Because."

Connor moves before he can think about it,
blocking the slam of the door. "Are you saying
your son is missing?"

He gets another narrow look, questioning this
time, and a woman slips into view.

"Jack, is it --"

"No," Drake says without turning around. "I don't
know *who* this is."

"Connor Hawke. I --" Drake pushes *hard* on
the door. "Green Arrow," he says quickly. "I've...
I was worried. When I hadn't heard from your
son. I just --"

"Do you know where he *is*?" The woman must
be Tim's mother, though she doesn't really look
much like him.

Perhaps her eyes are Tim's own. "I'm sorry, Mrs.
Drake, I don't. I was... I was told he'd be here."

The pressure on the door eases a bit, and Tim's
father fixes him with a look. "*Who* said that?"

"I... it was Batgirl. And... the new Robin. They
seemed to believe -- *is* your son missing?"

Mrs. Drake looks like she's about to cry. "He left.
He said... he said he couldn't be here anymore.
We just assumed --"

"That he'd gone back to *him*," Drake finishes.

It doesn't take much thought to guess who that
'him' referred to. "I'm afraid not, sir. They... they
would've said something."

"To you," Mrs. Drake says, and she doesn't look
like she's about to cry at all, anymore. "But not to
us."

He wants to protest that, but... but there's a lot
here he doesn't know. And a lot of phone calls
that could've been made never were. He settles
for shaking his head. "If... I'll find him."

"And bring him back?"

Connor looks Mrs. Drake in the eye. "If he'll
come."

Mr. Drake makes a small, choked sound, and it
takes a moment to translate it to laughter. "We
thought he'd go back to... that *man*." He's
pinching the bridge of his nose, and his knuckles
are white on the door again, even though he
isn't exerting any pressure. "I... I was going
to..."

"Sir --"

"I don't know what I was going to do." Another
choked, terrible laugh, and even though Drake
is looking at him again, Connor isn't sure what
he's seeing. "And now I know even less."

"I --" The hand on his arm is Mrs. Drake's.
"Ma'am?"

"Find him. Just... make sure he's safe. That's
what you people do, isn't it?"

There are a lot of ways he could answer that. He
settles for nodding, and watches Mrs. Drake pull
Tim's father back into the apartment. The door
closes, and Connor takes a moment to center
himself.

It's only been a few minutes, and the entire
conversation took place in the doorway. It feels
more than a little surreal, and the only positive
he can find is that he will, apparently, be spending
even less time in Gotham than he'd guessed.

The thought isn't remotely funny. Connor stares at
the closed door for another few moments and
heads for the stairs.

Outside, the street is a little quieter. The next film
has probably started. He has no idea --

"Hsst."

A black-gloved hand beckoning him into the
shadows between Tim's building and another.
Batgirl. Connor joins her, and works on trying to
make her out in all of the darkness.

It really isn't possible.

"Tim is --"

"Gone."

Connor pauses. "You listened?"

Batgirl points upward, toward a window that
almost surely looks into the Drakes' apartment.
"Worried, too."

Robin hadn't mentioned her very often. He spoke
very little about his... other family, but there
had still been a difference. Connor had assumed
Robin simply didn't work with her as often as
he worked with the others.

He really should've known that nothing was
simple at all.

"You'd been... watching him?"

"Yes."

"Why? I mean... were you close?"

"No." Connor can feel her shifting more than he
can see it. "I wanted." She makes a small,
frustrated sound.

"It's all right --"

"He *left*," she says. "Wanted..." He can feel her
shift again, and he's almost sure she's looking at
him, now.

He thinks about it. "You... you didn't think it
seemed normal?"

A light tap on his chest. He's going to assume
that means he's on the right track.

"And you... wanted to make sure he was all
right?"

"How."

Connor nods, slowly. "And you wanted to know
how he could. I... did he leave because... his
family found out?"

"Said they'd tell. *He'd* tell. All the secrets."

He nods again. If he lets himself think about it
very deeply, in a way he hadn't when Robin
had used Stephanie's name... if he did probably
very *little* research, he'd know Batman's
identity. And from there, everyone else's. But
his father already *knew* Batman's identity,
and Roy knew Batman *and* Nightwing, and
perhaps Oracle, too. As far as Connor could
tell, none of them had ever tried to take that
knowledge any further.

And he'd never needed to ask why. Still, there
are other concerns.

"You heard what I told them."

"Yes."

"I... I'm not sure they *wouldn't* be better off
asking Batman, Batgirl. I don't have the faintest
idea --"

"West."

"I -- you think he went west?"

"Maybe. To start."

Well. That only leaves... most of the country. Right.
"Do you have any idea how he's traveling?"

"Wait."

Connor waits. He feels her shifting again, and --

"Oracle... yes. Yes. All right. Out." Another shift.
"He took the bike. Before."

"The bike? Before... he left?" Connor blinks. "And
you didn't know...?"

"Batman," she says, and Connor's absolutely
positive that shift was a shrug.

He sighs. "I don't suppose 'bike' refers to a
twelve-speed?"

*

He decides to spend the rest of the night in his
hotel room, though sleeping is more a matter
of hope than anything else. It's an interesting
sensation to be both anxious and exhilarated
when no one is shooting at him, but he
supposes that it makes sense.

He's somehow agreed to go hunting for a
wayward ex-vigilante who failed to send him
an e-mail. His life has been strange for quite
some time now, but there are certain things
he's not yet accustomed to.

Connor decides to worry when he *does* get
used to it. For now... well, *he* can pick up a
phone, and... not call.

It's barely eleven in Star City, and his father is
almost certainly on patrol, and Mia *should* be
sleeping. Or at least doing her homework.

Most likely, she's training in the basement, and
wouldn't want to be interrupted, anyway. He
isn't sure what he'd *tell* his father, anyway,
and the fact that the man would only encourage
him isn't as comforting as it could be.

Connor stares up at the blandly painted ceiling
and listens to the faint hum of the alarm clock
beside him. He's not going to get to sleep until,
perhaps, an hour before it's set to go off. He
knows himself and his body too well to hope
for otherwise.

And Robin is...

Tim Drake is somewhere, on a motorcycle that
would probably make Roy's eyes glaze over
with lust, because there was no such thing as
a *normal* Bat-vehicle. Right now he's...
what?

It had never been difficult to read between the
lines of his letters, not for some things. Tim
had enjoyed nearly everything about being
Robin, in the same way Connor enjoyed
almost everything about being Green Arrow.

A few hours ago, he'd been more than willing to
admit that he'd read wrongly, and that the way
Tim had acted -- had *enjoyed* himself -- when
Connor had been in Gotham last... well, that it
had all been a fluke, or a miscommunication,
or even an exception to the rule. He'd retired.

But now he knows -- he *thinks* he knows --
*why* Tim had retired, and nothing makes
sense anymore. It would almost certainly be a
mistake to judge the Drakes by how they'd
acted tonight, when they were scared and
angry, and yet...

Connor is having a very difficult time imagining
them as being, for Tim, what Connor's family is
to him. And it has absolutely nothing to do with
the fact that neither of them are vigilantes, or
connected to the life in any way.

He can't forget the hostility in Mr. Drake's eyes,
and the fact that Batgirl...

Would she have kept watching if everything was
happy, or even normal? It's conjecture on top
of assumption, and Batgirl isn't the most
normal person he's ever met, or even worked
with, and yet she's also someone who can
read a person as clearly as Connor can read a
newspaper. She must've seen something like
what he had, or something else.

Had Tim known she was watching?

There are so many *questions*, and in the end...

In the end, there aren't very many answers at all,
save that he's even more worried about Tim than
he was this morning, when the worst thoughts
he'd had were about his *death*.

As opposed to his... hurt.

There's no real comfort in knowing that the few,
small conclusions he'd made about Tim before
he knew him as anything *but* Robin -- and
he'd always signed his e-mails with a simple 'R' --
were correct. Because now... now he can't help
but wonder what sort of stress Tim had been
under that would make him run away from
*both* of his families.

And to... what?

Would he go to the Titans?

Would he think to call *anyone*?

Or would he assume that his prior -- and
apparently *forced* -- lack of communication
with everyone in his life meant that he couldn't,
or shouldn't?

He knows what his father would tell him about
Bats, and he knows what his instincts tell him
about Tim. At this point, perhaps the most
important question is what sort of people he'll
meet tomorrow when he starts hitch-hiking.

The sound of his own laughter is not loud
enough to cover the knock. Robin -- Stephanie --
is on his balcony.

Connor pulls on a robe and joins her.

"I'm sorry," she says, before he can say anything.

"It's... all right?"

"No, it isn't," and she turns and stares out at the
city. "I was a bitch, and you didn't deserve it. So
I'm sorry."

Connor looks, reflexively, for Batgirl.

"And she isn't here." Robin snorts. "Well, she
might be. I'm not that good -- yet -- but she
didn't come with me." She smirks back over her
shoulder. "Or make me come."

"I didn't mean to imply... that."

"Yeah, well. I'm pretty sure I've gotten really,
*really* freaking touchy lately, and... yeah.
There's no excuse for it. Not really."

Connor thinks of Batgirl's shrug. "I can't actually
imagine what it's like to be trained by someone
like Batman."

The smile on her face gets smaller and harder,
but doesn't fade entirely. "I'm going to be really
fucking good one day."

"I don't doubt it --"

"Because of *me*. Not because... Christ. I need a
Midol."

"Um."

She looks at him from under her lashes for a long
moment and then laughs. "Yeah, okay, you and
Tim *must* have gotten along."

Connor smiles ruefully. "I have to admit, I thought
I'd find out more from *you* than... anyone else."

Robin sighs and looks out at the city again. "A
month ago, you would've been right."

"Did the two of you... argue?"

She shakes her head. "It's not like that. *He's*
not like that." She sighs again. "There are a lot of
things Tim never told me, and there are a lot of
things I took too long to tell him, and we
probably *should* have fought. But I've been
busy, and Tim..."

"Isn't like that."

"Yeah. Anyway." She turns and hops up on the
railing, kicking idly at the bars. The wind catches
her hair, and she shoves it behind her ear,
absently straightening her headband. "You've
probably figured out that you're not going to get
much help with this."

Connor nods.

"There's no way I can leave *now*, and Batgirl
wouldn't leave her patrol for anything short of a
direct order from Batman, and Batman... don't even
get me *started*. Man, I just thought he'd moved
Tim's bike into storage or somewhere, to keep it
from... yeah, anyway. You could try Nightwing out
in the 'haven, but I don't think even *Oracle*
knows what's up with *him* these days. And who
even knows where Oracle's sent the Birds..."

"I *have* worked on my own before, Robin."

"But never to track down one of *us*." She smiles
again. "'Us.' 'Robin.' Heh. I still get a kick out of
that."

He can understand that.

"I'm just saying... well, according to *Batman*,
there's nothing to worry about, because Tim can
do anything short of, like, flying. But if he *isn't*
as worried as the rest of us, I'll eat my fucking
headband."

Connor frowns. "So why --"

She cuts him off with an impatient look, but
softens again. "Just... let us know when you find
him, okay? Maybe he's better off out of Gotham,
but... yeah." She pulls out her grapple. "I gotta
get home before my mom rents out my room."

"Does *your* mother know? I... if you don't my
asking."

"Yeah, she does." She grins. "But she also knows
she won't stop me."

Until she learns Batman's secrets, too? Connor
waves at her as she leaves and goes back inside,
eyeing the bed for a few moments.

And then he packs.

*

"... so, it's good that you're getting out of Gotham,"
the trucker says for the fourth time.

His name is Bill, he's been driving this route for the
better part of five years, and he hasn't let Connor
get in a word edgewise for approximately twenty
minutes.

"It's a cesspit. Nothing but crime and misery and
more crime..."

He can't say he isn't used to it. Connor nods when
it seems expected and otherwise lets it wash over
him and keeps an eye out for red motorcycles. He
has a morbid, compelling image of Tim giving the
bike a paintjob, or perhaps rebuilding it.

"... and the *kids*! In my day, you'd never see a
kid dressed like that..."

Bill is his third ride today, and Connor is sure he
isn't a day over thirty, if that much. By his
calculations, Tim has a less than thirty-six hour
head start on him. However, he also has a
motorcycle designed by Batman, and a will.

A will for *what* is an excellent question.

"... you headed, anyway, kid?"

Connor smiles at Bill. "I'm not sure yet."

"Just seeing what you can see, hunh? I hear that.
Of course, it can be dangerous out here for a kid
alone."

"I'll be careful," Connor says, and wonders if his
first ride has made it to a hospital yet. Probably.
He really hadn't *meant* to break the man's wrist,
but sometimes the world *is* a dangerous place.

"Of course, it can't be worse than what you're used
to in Gotham. I heard they were *eating* people
back when the government shut them off. Did you
see anything like that?"

Connor considers pointing out, again, that he isn't
*from* Gotham. "Can't say that I did, Bill."

"Hm. You must be one of the lucky ones."

Connor makes a non-committal noise and considers
his strategy. He's assuming Tim isn't, really, planning
on going anywhere in particular, and theoretically it
should make this both easier and harder.

Easier, because a careful person wouldn't risk riding
through random towns on a motorcycle like that
without several different firmly-memorized lies to
tell, and so would almost certainly stick to the
highways.

The parking lots of the rest stops are easily in view,
and he's confident in his ability to spot the bike, even
if he isn't entirely sure how he would go about
convincing someone to turn around and drive into a
rest stop they'd just passed. Faking illness seems like
the best option.

It's harder, too, however, because... well, because
without anything resembling a destination, Connor's
immediate future involves a rough, continuing circuit
through the highways of southern New Jersey and
eastern Pennsylvania, and perhaps a slow death
through carbon monoxide poisoning.

"... and the Knights haven't made it to the playoffs
in *years*."

Perhaps it would be faster if he took deeper
breaths.

*

He sees the boy over a cup of very strong, very
bitter coffee. Just another slight, dark-haired boy
in clothing too loose to get an accurate idea of
physique. There seem to be dozens in every rest
stop Connor's paused in. The motel he'd stayed
in the night before alone...

Connor shakes his head and drinks more of the
stuff, waiting for a better look at *this* one and
quietly fantasizing about tea. There's nowhere
near enough caffeine in it for his needs, though,
and while Tetley tastes the same wherever you
go, Connor has developed a healthy degree of
terror about New Jersey water, even boiled.

The boy orders coffee and a sandwich, and
persists on staying in profile. He's wearing
sunglasses, and has a small, ragged goatee.

He moves through the crowd of sluggish morning
travelers easily, speaking to no one and scanning
the room like --

He moves like --

And his eyes don't so much as *pause* on Connor,
but he's moving towards the exits. Connor drops
his coffee. Literally drops it, and pausing to wipe
up the mess is a mistake.

By the time he gets to the parking lot, the
motorcycle is back on the highway, headed east.
And the sandwich is on the ground, still warm.

It cools in his pocket while he waits for the next
ride.

Suzanne apologizes absently for the lack of leg
room in her Porsche. Connor smiles at her and
tells her he'd never ridden in one before.

"Nothing like it, honey." She strokes the steering
wheel like the spine of a cat.

"Is it true how fast they can go?"

The smile she gives him is sharp and narrow, and
makes her look closer to thirty than the forty-four
he'd estimated, in a somewhat terrifying way.
Definitely in a *familiar* way. He shifts a little
closer to the door and Suzanne snorts. "I'm
pretty sure my daughter's older than you, pretty
boy, so why don't you just hold on and let mama
show you what she can do?"

The acceleration knocks him back against the
seat. The engine sounds aren't really louder so
much as more *noticeable*, a hum that matches
his own excitement. There's a quick series of
shifts, and Connor makes himself focus on more
than the feel. Suzanne is making the car weave
through traffic *exactly* like a runaway vigilante
might move through a crowd of people entirely
unaware of just what's in their midst.

Connor grins, a little helplessly, and looks for red.

"Answer your question, kiddo?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Ma'am. Jesus. Pass me that headset. Mama *also*
has some phone calls to make."

As near as Connor can tell, Suzanne is an attorney
with several secretaries who must either be
extremely tolerant or entirely broken of spirit. He
thinks about discussing meditation techniques
with her, but she moves from one phone call to
another as fluidly as she makes the car move
through traffic.

And he's looking for motorcycles.

He's a little surprised that he *hasn't* seen Tim
yet, but then, judging by the speedometer,
Suzanne is only *breaking* the speed limit.

Tim had seemed ready and willing to shatter it,
and he's most assuredly able.

The only consolation is that he's just a little bit
too frightened about the prospect of winding up
in a pile of twisted metal to be lulled by either
the admirably smooth ride or the pattern of
dashes.

But he still almost misses the flash of red when
Tim takes the exit. It's on a rise and --

"Oh, dear."

"Shut up, Carmen," Suzanne says, and flicks her
gaze at him. "What, kid? I said shut *up*, Carmen."

"I need to take that exit. I'm sorry, but I --"

"Man, I should've *known* you wouldn't be paying
attention. Not *you*, Carmen, Christ, did you
forget to take your fucking ginseng again?" Suzanne
punches the hang-up switch, and they wind up
leaving a great deal of rubber on the road.

Horns blare, and Connor has just enough time to
wonder if his father would understand this, *too*,
before they're on the exit ramp. He can smell
burning rubber, and Suzanne's grin is just that
slightest bit maniacal.

"There. Now where are we going?"

There isn't a rest-stop in sight, and the only
visible gas station flashes past in a flicker of bright
colors that aren't anything like the red of the bike.
Robin red. He doesn't know, and any lies he
could come up with... "I'm. Actually chasing
someone."

"You're what?"

"I don't mean to get you involved in this,
ma'am --"

"You're trying to *chase* someone driving by
*hitch-hiking*? Are you *high*?" Suzanne veers
around what was either a squirrel or... something
else. At this speed, it's nothing but a small,
blurred, greyish lump.

"Well, I --"

"Who *is* it?"

"My friend, actually --"

"What's he *driving*?" She looks like she's trying
to decide whether to stab him with a ballpoint
pen or laugh.

"Er -- red motorcycle. Very distinctive and -- taking
that left -- oh God --"

They're going to die. They're going to be arrested.
Possibly both.

The road is mostly empty save for them and Tim's
bike, but it twists like a snake.

"I would just like to apologize for --"

"Oh, shut up. Carmen was boring me." Suzanne
punches the stereo on and music blares
immediately, too loud for him to even make a
*guess* about who it might be. Roy would
probably know.

Roy would possibly ask Suzanne out on a date, at
this point.

"That kid can *drive*," she says.

"It's my understanding that he's been doing it
since he was fourteen."

"Hm. So, what, he owe you money? Or is that
*your* bike? If so, you have *excellent* taste."
The look she gives him is glittering and mercifully
brief. She really does a very good job of keeping
her eye on the road for an insane person.

"Oh, I, no. He's actually... running away from
home."

"And you're trying to convince him otherwise?"

"Mostly I'd just like to *talk* to him -- right!"

Suzanne grunts and they leave more rubber
behind. "He's a *terrible* conversationalist."

"I think he's just... moody. Right now." There are
a lot more trees. He wonders if they're near the
Pine Barrens. He'd read about them -- they're
apparently very pretty when they're not a brown
and green blur.

She takes one hand off the wheel to pat him on
the shoulder. "My daughter Annie gets the
same way, sometimes. Had to chase her all the
way to North Carolina a few years back. Of
course, I had a *car*."

The song changes, and Suzanne starts singing
along. Something about a 'gold dust woman.'
Connor makes a note to ask someone about it
when he isn't about to die.

"Hm. He's slowing down. Do you think it's a
trick? Annie got me that way when I was still
driving that damned Jaguar."

"I'm... not sure?

Another grunt. "Nothing for it," she says, and
eases her foot off the gas.

Connor tenses, and watches Tim as closely as
he can, but he really does come to a *complete*
stop at the side of the road. Connor reaches
for the door handle and Suzanne squeezes his
shoulder.

"Wait for it, kid, he looks squirrelly."

She keeps the engine idling, but Tim puts the
kickstand down and takes off his helmet,
looking back at them over his shoulder. "I
think..."

"Yeah, go for it." She claps his shoulder one
more time and shoves a business card in his
pocket. "Call me if he bolts. I could use a
vacation."

"I -- I don't know how to thank you. I can't tell
you how much this means to me --"

She narrows her eyes at him. "You love my car.
Say it."

"I... love, respect, and fear your car."

"Good boy. Out."

He gets out, shouldering his pack. Suzanne lets
him get approximately five feet away before
peeling off again, and Connor rocks a little in
the car's wake. Tim isn't looking at him anymore,
but he also hasn't put the helmet back on.

"Robin --"

"Don't call me that." His voice is quiet and low.
Tired.

Connor thinks about reaching out. He's not sure
if it would be easier or harder if Tim was looking
at him. "All right. It's just... we've never exactly
been introduced, and I didn't want to presume."

"Chasing me isn't presumptuous?"

"I didn't want to presume *more*." He tries a
smile, though since it's aimed at the back of Tim's
head... Connor sighs internally and moves around
to the front of the bike. Tim's eyes are nothing
like his mother's. They're wide and blue and blank.
Connor offers his hand. "Connor Hawke."

The corner of Tim's mouth twitches, once, and
he stares at Connor's hand for a long moment
before shaking it. "Tim Drake. Why are you here?"

It's tempting to say something about this entirely
random -- but surprisingly pretty -- road being
the one Tim had *led* him to, but... "I was
worried when I hadn't heard from you. And then
when I tried to e-mail, your address was no
longer valid, and I... was more worried."

Tim turns his head to the side, and the skin at
the corner of his eye tightens. Nothing else. If he'd
been wearing a mask...

Connor takes a breath. "I went to Gotham to find
you, but you were already gone."

"How did you know where to look?"

"Batgirl and... the new Robin."

Connor watches Tim's expression get even tighter,
and thinks about touching his face. "They just...
told you?" There's an edge of hurt in Tim's voice,
and Connor gives up and puts his hand on his
shoulder. It feels like a compromise.

"They seemed to think that you... might want
someone to talk to."

He can feel Tim's shoulder tense beneath his
hand, and he watches Tim breathe with a very
obviously *conscious* steadiness.

"Tim?"

"Someone... to talk to."

"I --"

Tim brushes Connor's hand off his shoulder and
then puts his own back on the handlebar. "I'm
sorry I didn't get in touch with you, Connor."

"You don't have to apologize." I met your
parents, he doesn't say, but the look Tim gives
him says he heard it, anyway.

Tim's smile is narrow and bleak and doesn't
touch his eyes at all. "As you may have guessed,"
he says, "it was part of the deal."

"For keeping the secret."

Tim nods.

"I'm sorry. I can't imagine spending months
without my friends. I think --"

"Your friends *are* your family."

Connor looks at Tim, holding his eyes as best he
can. It's too late in the year for many insects, but
it's still warm. Almost uncomfortably so with his
pack. "So are yours," he says.

Tim looks right back at him, swallowing once. And
Connor would've called that expression blank, but
it's still immensely obvious when Tim closes it off
even more. "I know Batgirl was... watching."

Connor nods. "She... she said she was confused."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "She knew why I had to
leave."

"She didn't seem... I think she wanted to know
how you managed it, even with... everything
else."

Tim's mouth twitches. "She didn't stop even
after Batman *fired* her. No one ever really
does."

"Except for you."

Another twitch, and Connor feels himself
*willing* it to be a smile. He hasn't seen Tim
smile in much too long.

He wishes he knew more jokes.

"I'm not exactly doing a good job at it."

"Everyone needs time to adjust to change."

Tim looks down at the handlebar again for a
moment before reaching up to... rip the goatee
off his chin.

"Ow?"

*That* gets him a smile, and Connor can see
the remnants of glue on Tim's chin. "I don't really
know why I decided to dress like 'Alvin Draper.' I
guess it was a reflex. It didn't stop you from
recognizing me."

Connor rubs the glue off with his thumb before he
can think about it, and looks into Tim's eyes and...
and he isn't sure. "It took a moment, but you
move in a very distinctive way."

"Batman always said I should work on that. I was
supposed to start going out as a woman more
often. Apparently, the shoes alone force you to
really *think* about it."

"I imagine so." He... really does. There's a certain
ambiguity to Tim's features --

"You're picturing it, aren't you?" The smile is in
his eyes, now. Very much so.

Connor feels like he'd missed that, too, even
though he'd never actually *gotten* it before. He
smiles ruefully. "Wouldn't you?"

Tim cocks his head at him. "You might have trouble
with the falsies the first few times you tried to
draw a bow."

"I'm surprisingly adaptable," Connor says, and
smiles a little more.

But Tim stops smiling back.

"Tim?"

"You've worked with Batman. You know... well,
you know."

Connor isn't sure about that, but he nods anyway.

Tim clutches the handle bar with one hand and
runs the fingers of the other over the console. "It
took me a long time to figure out that when he
wasn't criticizing me, he was complimenting me.
No matter what it sounded like. And even some
of the criticisms... I just." He squeezes the
handlebar, once. "I'm just remembering that he
told me once that I was very adaptable."

Connor nods again. "You'd have to be."

"Yeah. Yes. That's exactly it. You can't *do* this
without being adaptable, so I didn't really think
of it as a compliment, even though he meant it
that way. Because... because, for Batman, the
fact that he thinks you *can* do it is a
compliment in and of itself."

"You must miss him very much."

Tim looks up at him again, and his eyes make
Connor want to shoot something. Or just...

"Tim --"

"I didn't figure it out. I think... I mean. I don't
think, I *know*. I figured it out one night when
I'd finished my homework, and I could hear
sirens in the distance, and I was supposed to be
asleep but I *couldn't*. So I thought back, and
made a list of every time I realized Batman was
complimenting me versus every time he *was*
complimenting me, and it was really..." Tim's
laugh is choked, and he stares off into the
trees.

The wind shifts, and Connor thinks he can smell
deer, and for just a moment, it's really very
easy to see Tim's father.

"It was really *pathetic*. All this time, and I..."

Connor wants to put his hand back on Tim's
shoulder. No, he wants to *hug* him, but... he
puts his hand back, and squeezes gently until
Tim looks at his again. "I... I have reason to
believe he misses you, too."

"I *know* he does. I'm his partner. I *was* his
partner, and why the fuck am I just figuring out
what that means *now*?"

He doesn't know what to say to that, and can't
help but remember all the things he's heard his
father say over the years about 'the Bats,' and
can't help but think about how sad it is that his
father was right about so much of it, even though
he isn't sure his father realizes that they're real
people, too. And Tim's shoulder is tensing under
his own again.

"God -- *Christ*. I have to... I have to..."

"We could... go back?"

"No," Tim says. "I'm not... I'm not going back to
shut up in that stupid little apartment, when I
can feel the whole city around me and I can't
touch *any* of it. I'm sorry, Connor, I know
you came all this way -- and *chased* me,
even, and... I can't."

Connor nods. He isn't surprised. "We could
continue to not go back... together."

Calling the feel of Tim's shoulder under his
hand 'tense' is an incredible understatement.
He feels absolutely rigid, to the point where
Connor wants to wince in sympathy. He
wishes he wanted to let go, because he's
almost sure Tim doesn't want to be touched.

"That is... if you wanted me to join you."

"Would you keep chasing me if I said I didn't?"

Connor thinks of Suzanne's business card. But.
"No," he says. "I wouldn't." He's almost sure
he means it, and he's absolutely sure he could
make himself *not* to do it. He has a lot of
experience with self-control, and. He doesn't
want Tim to be angry with him.

The look on Tim's face is a searching one, with
a hint of mild surprise. "You really wouldn't."

Connor nods.

Tim smiles at him, and it's something like taking
a deep, cleansing breath. "I missed you,
Connor. I... I'd forgotten."

It feels like there's something he should do,
something more than just smiling back at Tim,
but he isn't sure what it is. And then Tim pats
the... passenger seat, Connor supposes, behind
him.

"Come on. Let's go see... something." And Tim
smiles a little wider.

Connor moves to sit behind him, irrationally
positive that Tim will pull away as soon as he's
no longer in front of the bike, but he doesn't.

"There's an extra helmet back there."

It's the same green as Tim's old gauntlets, but
it feels fitting, just the same. Tim smiles at him
again and slips on his own red helmet.

"Can you hear me?"

Connor blinks. "I... yes."

"Good. I hadn't checked the radios before I...
left, so I wasn't sure. We probably won't be
able to hear each other perfectly over the road
noise, though."

"All right."

"Have you ever ridden on one of these before?"

"No."

It's an odd feeling. He can't, obviously, *see*
Tim smiling, but he thinks he can feel it just the
same.

Tim moves the kickstand back up and tilts the bike
fully upright again.

"You're going to want to hold on."

Connor doesn't have a problem with that, at all.

*

The ride is good -- wonderful, actually -- though
Connor thinks it might not be so pleasant if he
wasn't wearing a jacket and long pants. He's also
glad that fastidiousness had caused him to keep
wearing boots, instead of the sandals he'd
packed. He thinks he might owe that man with
the alcohol poisoning a debt.

But he's covered enough that the wind feels
more like a really aggressive caress than a
beating, his pack is settled comfortably on his
shoulders, and. And he's pressed to Tim's back.

It isn't really a hug, but his body doesn't seem
to know that, or maybe it just doesn't care.
Tim... feels good in his arms, and it hadn't
taken long at all for the tension to dissipate.

He's --

"Are you all right back there, Connor?"

"Yes." The radios really are excellent, though
he wouldn't have expected anything less.
There's the barest hint of tinniness, and, at
this point, he has to concentrate to hear it.
It's just Tim's voice in his ear. The same
one he'd imagined while reading Tim's
e-mails, only... closer.

"You've been quiet," Tim says.

"I didn't want to interrupt you."

"I've ridden this thing through heavy traffic with
bullets flying at my head, Connor." The smile is
entirely audible.

He smiles back. "Perhaps we can avoid that."

"I think I'd like to see you firing your bow from
the back of the bike."

"I'd hope you'd be watching the road."

Tim laughs. "I *always* watch the road.
Though I have to admit, the way that woman
was driving could've been distracting. Who
*was* she?"

"Suzanne Parsons. I believe she's an attorney."

"And amateur stock-car driver. Wow. She's
going to need to get her tires replaced."

"She did seem... enthusiastic about chasing
you down like a dog."

Another laugh. "What did you *tell* her?"

"The truth."

The silence is a waiting one.

"That you were my friend, and that I wanted
very badly to talk to you."

Tim sighs, quiet and brief enough that Connor
thinks he might not have noticed were it not
in his ear.

As it is, he can't stop himself from squeezing
Tim a little.

"Connor..."

"Yes."

"I never wanted to just cut you off like that. Cut
*everyone* off... God. I know Batman would've
told people *something* --"

"Not that many."

Another sigh. "Of course not. Just whoever he
thought needed to know, like the Titans. And
whatever he told them... probably *wasn't*
enough to explain Steph showing up as the
new Robin."

"No."

"I have to... whatever else I do while I'm out
here, I have to make phone calls. Because...
because it won't mess things up any more
than I already have."

Connor nods, knowing Tim can feel it through
the back of his own jacket.

"I think... I think it would've been easier if my
father had let me say my goodbyes. I probably
should have explained it better. I should've... I
should *not* have used the word allies, and
associates. It must've just made it worse."

"You've had a lot of time to consider it."

The laugh is humorless. "Yes, I have. And I
didn't know how to bring it up again. I was
just supposed to be... a normal kid who didn't
have much of a social life for the past few
years, but was getting back into the swing of
things.

"For a while, my father looked at every kid I
spoke to who also happened to be in good
shape like some... I don't know."

"Like someone who'd take you away from
him?"

"How are they," Tim says, and his voice is
quiet.

Connor watches the trees blur past at a reasonable
speed. There are a few other cars on the road.
They mostly seem older, and several of them look
more like farm vehicles than anything else. He
wonders where they're going. "They're both angry
and worried. More the latter than the former."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Tim --"

"When my father found out, he threatened B --
Batman with a gun. I didn't know he *owned* a
gun. Three years of my life searching homes and
reading people and *knowing* them, and I didn't
even realize that my own father kept a gun. In
our own *house*."

For a moment, Connor is sure that Tim's upset
is more about not knowing than it is about the
fact of the gun itself, but then... Connor is
*absolutely* sure that Roy owns more guns
than shirts, and the only Gotham vigilante he
can think of who even uses projectile weapons
is the Huntress.

'The one they *don't* like,' his father reminds
him in his head.

"You were shocked."

"I was horrified, Connor. I... I couldn't even
recognize him. My father barely yelled at me
when I 'disappeared' into No Man's Land. I
could count the number of times I'd seen him
honestly angry on my *hands*. And then,
when we talked, he was alternately threatening
Batman's life and threatening to expose us all."

"Which would be just another way of murdering
your other family."

"Yes. I... you've never taken your secret identity
very seriously."

"I..." Connor smiles ruefully. "I suppose it must seem
that way to you."

"I admire people like you. And maybe if Gotham
wasn't Gotham... Batman used to tell me stories of
the old days. When Nightwing was Robin, and
before. How people like the Joker almost never
killed anyone, or even tried to kill them. How only
the *big* guys carried guns, and most people
would try to use their fists first. Does your father
ever talk about those days?"

"Sometimes. Not often. It's mostly in his eyes when
we're working. On the bad nights."

There are a few more cars on the road now, and
the trees are thinning out. He can just make out
a few houses now, situated far back from the road.

Connor listens to Tim breathe, and thinks about
Mr. Drake's white knuckles.

"I try to imagine it. What it's like. I was still in
training when I met Lady Shiva for the first time --
I told you about that."

The Paper Monkey. Connor nods against Tim's
back.

"And then the first time I went solo, it was up
against the Joker, and all I could think... I never
got the chance to meet the boy who was Robin
before me, because the Joker murdered him.
Beat him to death and. I... I try to imagine
what it must've been like, in a world where
just because Two-Face escaped from Arkham
again, you didn't have to assume that someone
was going to die."

"Can you?"

"No. No, I can't. And the only way I could've
explained that to my father was by talking more
about the things... the things that made him so
*angry*, because I'd lied to him for so long,
because he was *worried* about me. And I just..."

And Connor understands it. How Tim had tried
and failed to come up with a better way, and how
it was possible that no one could. Not without
more lies.

More than that, he knows that *Tim* knows that
Connor understands. And he's starting to
understand what it must have been like for Tim
to have no one to talk to about any of it, and
there's a crawling kind of horror in his belly.

"Tim... you don't have to talk to me about any of
this," Connor says, and he can feel Tim's body
tense against his own. "But I'm glad you are. I..."
He doesn't have the words for it. He squeezes
Tim again, and this time Tim pushes back against
him, just a little.

"Thank you," he says, and his voice is low and
rough in Connor's ear.

"You're welcome."

They're definitely in a town, now, though the brief
look Connor had taken through the New Jersey and
Pennsylvania atlases hasn't given him the
preparation to have any idea *which*.

Tim slows down when they reach what must be the
main street, and pulls in to a parking space in front
of... a diner. Connor laughs.

"What is it?"

"I still have your sandwich, you know."

"*Where*?"

"In my pocket."

"You've been carrying a cheeseburger from the
Vince Lombardi memorial rest stop in your pocket
since this morning."

"I thought you might get hungry."

"I dropped it in the parking lot trying to get *away*
from you."

"Well," Connor says, "you really shouldn't litter."

Tim elbows him in the stomach and laughs in
Connor's ear. It's... surprisingly difficult to let go
of him, even so, but he does it. And stands, and
wobbles a little on his feet.

Tim takes off his helmet and grins up at him.
"Takes some getting used to."

His inner thighs are sort of... tingling. Connor
blinks. "So I see."

The diner smells like very good coffee and a large
amount of fried meat products. Connor dumps
the cold cheeseburger in a trashcan, and when
he looks up again, Tim is giving *him* a look.

"What?"

"We should find a city. So it'll be easier to find
vegetarian restaurants."

Connor smiles. "I've grown accustomed to being
taken places like this by my family, Tim. I know
how to find something to eat."

"Still..." Tim frowns. "I didn't think."

Connor puts his hand on Tim's shoulder. "You
don't have to remember every detail about me,
you know."

Tim looks at him from out of the corner of his
eye, and there's something like the beginnings
of a truly *sharp* smile on his face. "I've spent
the past several months with nothing whatsoever
to obsess about other than my textbooks, Connor.
*This*... is like breathing."

"Far be it from me to stifle you."

The smile gets wider and sharper, just for a
moment, and then fades into something entirely
innocuous in an eye-blink. A waitress is in front of
them, and she can't seem to decide which of them
to frown at more assiduously.

"Good afternoon, ma'am," Connor says, and smiles
at her.

"We were wondering if we could have a table,"
Tim says, also smiling, and leaning in to read her
nametag. "Beatrix. I've always liked that name."

The waitress blinks, jaw working for just a
moment, and then turns away to lead them to a
booth in front of a window.

Connor hides a smile behind his menu. Roy
would say something, at this point, about the
power of charm, but Tim looks faintly
uncomfortable, and spares a glance for the empty
table in the farthest corner of the restaurant.

Connor thinks about it for a moment and has to
hide another smile. *That* table is in the shadows,
would allow Tim to keep his back to the wall, and
has an excellent line of sight to the entirety of the
diner.

"I missed you," Connor says, and Tim freezes
and blinks.

"I'm getting too obvious."

"Or I've gotten to know what to look for with
you."

Tim looks at him, and there's nothing particularly
strange about his expression, but his eyes are
wide and almost hungry, and Connor can't make
himself look away until Tim picks up his own menu.

Connor focuses on breathing steadily and tries to
figure out what sort of food he'd find edible.
Nearly all of the omelets involve some form of
meat, but the cheese one looks good enough.

And maybe some hash browns.

When the waitress comes to take their order, he's
not really surprised at all by the fact that Tim orders
nearly the same thing, but...

"You know, I don't mind it when people eat meat
in front of me."

"And I don't need to eat meat with every meal,"
Tim says, and grins at him.

"I think my father would say that I'm being a bad
influence on you."

Tim snorts. "What *does* your father think
about... all of this?"

"Are you kidding? He drove me to the airport and
put me on the *plane*."

Tim nods, slowly, and slides the salt shaker back
and forth between his hands. "He always seemed
like someone who believed in... friendship."

Connor thinks about playing with the pepper
shaker. "Roy told me, once, that our father had t
old him that it was just another kind of love, and
that he was glad Roy had always had the Titans."

"'Another kind of love.' I like that. I... it seems so
simple. So *basic*."

"But?"

Tim smiles ruefully at him. "I spent a lot of time
just... completely failing to get that. I mean, I can
blame... my former boss for some of it. I wasn't
allowed to tell the people on... my former, *former*
team a lot about myself, and I wound up staying
aloof from them for a long time. But it wasn't
*just* that. There were a lot of things I could've
done, or said..." Tim shakes his head. "Anyway. I
was just starting to understand what having
friends, *real* friends, who knew just about
everything about me, really meant."

"And then you had to leave." Connor reaches
across the table and squeezes Tim's hand, and the
look in Tim's eyes is wild and dark for a moment
before he turns his hand over and squeezes back.
And lets go.

"I feel like I'm saying too much. Part of me thinks
I'm just... dumping this all *over* you --"

"No, Tim, I --"

"And part of me wonders if this is friendship, too."

He really can't seem to keep his breathing steady.
"I hope it is," Connor says. "I... want it to be."

Tim smiles at him again. "Then it is."

*

They've been heading north for a little more than
an hour, and Connor wonders if Tim *does* intend
to take them into a city.

New York, probably, and it would be *like* Tim for
a throwaway comment in a diner to lead to a
definite change in plans.

Or, most probably, just into a *plan*.

The starchy lunch is making him feel a little sleepy,
and... well, he hasn't actually gotten very much
sleep at all in the past few days, between
patrolling with his father, trying very hard to
avoid patrolling in Gotham, and hunting Tim down.

The thought is like a catalyst -- he yawns before
he can stop himself.

"We should stop for the night," Tim says.

"It isn't night." It really isn't. It's fall, but the sun
isn't even down yet.

"How much sleep have you gotten?"

"How much have *you*?"

"My point entirely," and it's another one of those
audible smiles.

He isn't sure why he feels like resisting -- it would
be entirely sensible for both of them to get an
early night. *Especially* Tim, since they'll almost
certainly be doing more driving tomorrow, which
means that *Tim* will be doing more driving,
and...

It's a lie. He knows exactly why he's resisting.

He doesn't want to stop holding on.

"I really... wanted to make a few phone calls,"
Tim says, and his voice is hesitant.

Connor blinks, and swallows back a sudden tide
of guilt. He'd forgotten. "I -- God, I'm sorry. I'd
completely forgotten --"

"It's all right. I kind of like the idea of you
forgetting things like that."

Connor smiles to himself.

Tim takes the next exit, and guides them into a
Holiday Inn. Connor eases himself off the bike,
bracing himself for the tingle and... he's actually
a little sore. Nothing severe, but he'll have to do
a bit more stretching than usual tonight. He slips
his pack off, and rolls his head on his shoulders.

"Oh, here," Tim says, and slips around behind
Connor, pushing up the back of his jacket and
digging his thumbs into the base of his spine.

"Oh, you don't have to --"

"It's not *your* fault I didn't steal the Batmobile."

Connor laughs and moans, bracing his hands on
the motorcycle's seat. "That feels wonderful."

"Good," Tim says, and works his way to every
sore or tight muscle with ruthless efficiency. "You
can return the favor sometime."

"Gladly. I'd be very -- oh -- interested in
comparing technique." He wonders what Tim's
skin is like, what it would feel like to touch. And
his musculature... Connor would probably have
to use a very firm touch to make himself felt,
much less to do any good. He moans quietly
and laughs again. "If you're going to do any
more than that, we should probably go indoors,
Tim. I think I'm making a spectacle of myself."

Tim's hands pause just beneath Connor's
shoulder blades, but he doesn't say anything.

"Tim...?" Connor looks back over his shoulder.
It's getting darker quickly, but it isn't difficult to
see Tim's expression. It's just difficult to read it.
"Is something wrong?"

"I..." Tim's smile is brief, and a little twitchy. "I
just realized I haven't given anyone a massage
in *months*." He moves his hands, shoving
them in his pockets.

Connor stands and straightens, and turns to
face Tim. The parking lot is empty, quiet save
for the road noise that pass the sound-break
of the few trees, and the skitter of dead leaves
across asphalt. Connor thinks it should feel
almost peaceful, but instead it just feels like
something waiting. He brushes a hand over
Tim's forearm, and thinks of the gauntlet that isn't
there. "There are a lot of things to miss, I would
imagine."

The smile on Tim's face gets somewhat steadier,
and a lot more rueful. "Yes. Come on, let's go...
wait. What name do you want to check in under?"

"Oh. I thought we might use my credit card... but
you don't want to be traced."

"Old habits die hard. Though I suppose one of
my phone calls *should* be to my parents." The
smile fades off his face. "I owe them that much."

"I think it would be a good idea," Connor says,
and watches the smile come right back to Tim's
eyes.

"You're pretty much the acknowledged master of
the carefully neutral statement, aren't you?"

Connor smiles back. "Some have suggested as
much."

Tim laughs. "I think I'm starting to understand
some of Kon's frustration with me."

"Kon...? Kon-El is Superboy's Kryptonian name,
yes?"

Tim nods. "*Him* I'll call from here. My
parents... well, we're going to have to fill up
again before we hit the road again tomorrow.
Gas stations have pay phones. They can wait
another night."

"You sound..."

"Bitter?" Tim raises an eyebrow at him in
something not quite like a challenge.

Connor thinks about it. "A little, yes, but mostly...
you sound like you did when you were making
a plan of attack."

Tim blinks. "So I'm apparently thinking of my
parents the same way I would about a group of
deadly assassins."

"On the upside, you're making me feel a lot better
about the problems I have with my own family."

Tim snorts. "Let's check in."

*

It only took a few moments of watching Tim stare
grimly at the telephone in their room before
ducking out to see what sort of take-out he could
get from the hotel's restaurant began to seem the
better part of valor.

There's what appears to be the remnants of a
small wedding party taking up approximately a
third of the bland little place, and, judging by the
noise, a few more filling up the small bar.

He watches them while he waits for what will
probably be two very depressing interpretations
of the word 'salad,' the women almost entirely
uniform in pastel-colored dresses, varying only
in their beat-up sneakers, the men in rumpled
suits or tuxedos.

All of them are drinking coffee, and talking
about...

Well, he's a little too far away to eavesdrop,
even if he wanted to do so. But they seem to
all agree that the wedding was a beautiful one,
that the groom was lucky and the bride
beautiful (or perhaps the other way around),
and that they hoped to have the same sort of
thing for their siblings or children or friends or
themselves.

The sincerity is palpable and warming, the
continuing celebration just somewhat different
and quieter than the one in the bar.

These are people who've shared a joyous *event*,
and clearly wish it to continue for as long as
possible. They drink coffee and eat desserts, and
talk about the photographs that are sure to come,
and joke about the presents they'd given the new
couple (wherever they might be at the moment),
and...

He has to admit, he's spent a lot of time thinking
about it. What his own wedding would be like.
He wants to get married, and to... if there's any
one thing he regrets about the course his life
has taken, it's the loss of ritual, of tradition that
requires more than a shared look on a rooftop,
or a pair of loosed arrows.

It's partially his own fault, of course. He's far
from the ashram, but there are plenty of groups,
plenty of fellow Buddhists with whom he *could*
spend more time. He'd always imagined himself
settling in with his new family as much as
possible, finding a small, quiet space for himself,
and then re-establishing himself in other ways.

He'd never expected that his place with his
family would be quite so *real*. He'd never
really dared to hope. But...

He can picture them all so *clearly*. Mia getting
out of school, and his father making the rounds
at the youth center, preparing for another busy
afternoon full of children who are just another
*part* of Connor's family. And Roy... he's not
very far from Roy at all, right now.

Connor has yet to visit the headquarters of Roy's
new team, but he can imagine it vividly as well.
Some hidden technological wonder, full of
weaponry and people as loud and bright as Roy
himself. At least, the way he speaks about his
team-mates suggests that would be the case.

He thinks -- he hopes -- it means that his family
will be even larger someday, though he has to
admit he finds the way Roy describes Grace Choi
as being more than a little... intimidating. But
then...

His life is full of intimidating men and women,
larger than *life* men and women, and he feels
greedy for wanting more, and more than a little
scared about the *ways* in which he wants
more. As if he'll never get enough of these
people, any of them, and as if he'll never get
enough of... acquiring more?

He watches a smiling waiter fill the wedding
party's coffee mugs again, and wonders if that's
what he's doing here. He's not quite back to
the point where he wonders if he's presuming
too much on what had been -- and still is -- a
brief acquaintance. He doesn't think he *can*
get back there.

And yet, there's something large and strange
and difficult to comprehend about just how
strongly he feels about this, how very *vital*
it seems to be here, now, with the boy he'd
grown accustomed to having in his life when
they were still three thousand miles apart
from each other, long before he'd ever given
the matter any thought.

He'd never questioned his tendency to think
things through slowly and deliberately, because
it had simply always been there. He barely
remembers the lessons received about it in the
ashram, because there had simply never had
to be that *many*. Except it seems that now he's
lost it, or some desperately important *part* of
it.

He is still the arrow, but now it almost seems that
there's some other consciousness entirely holding
the bow.

Now it seems...

He isn't sure, at all.

He only knows that he'd spent little enough time
with Dennis in the months before his death, and
even less with the others in Dennis' group -- not
enough for it to become his own. And he knows
that even if he never would've *considered*
making a trip like this one, he would be here just
the same.

Surrounded by the happiness of others, and
helplessly, curiously *aware* of Tim just a few
floors above him, re-connecting with the person-
shaped needs and desires he'd been forced to go
without for far too long.

And wondering, just a little -- and far too much --
if the only reason he's being allowed so much of
this pleasure is because he's the friend who got
here first.

He's going to have to give *some* thought to the
person he appears determined to become.

"Sir?"

He turns, and the little hostess of the restaurant
is smiling up at him apologetically. Connor smiles
back. "You're out of lettuce, aren't you?"

"What?"

"Nothing. What's wrong?"

"Well, your order got lost in the shuffle and...
well, I'm sorry about this, but it will probably be
at least another twenty minutes. Could I get you
some coffee? On the house?"

"Please, it's no trouble. But I would appreciate
some coffee. I'm going to go make a phone call,
though, so there's no rush." He smiles again, and
the hostess seems very relieved.

"There's a pay phone in the bar, but you might
prefer the one outside."

Connor nods. His father would be deeply
disappointed to hear the sounds of an obvious party
in the background only to find out that Connor wasn't,
actually, a part of it. He has a moment of pause
before using his credit card, but Tim *will* call his
parents tomorrow, so chances are anyone tracing the
charges wouldn't be especially interested in *him*.

He tries the youth center first, and the phone rings
seven times before Jamal picks up. It *is* snack time.

"Star Kids, we're cute and we take checks."

"It's just me, Jamal. Connor."

"Heyyy, Tiger Woods! Where you at?"

"Well, I'm in New Jersey, actually --"

"What? No, it's Tiger Woods... naw, man, I *don't*
like pudding. Why you always trying to trade me
your lame-ass pudding?"

Connor waits.

"No, you *can't* have my brownie."

Connor thinks about inviting Tim back to Star City
with him, and tries to picture him at the center. He
has a disturbingly clear image of the children
learning just enough martial arts to wreak havoc on
the city as a whole. Or possibly Tim would just be
tempted to tranquilize them.

And... neither image really explains why the idea
of bringing Tim back with him feels quite so good,
and the excuse that Tim would, perhaps, *benefit*
from being around normal, boisterous children in
the same way *he* does...

... is just an excuse. Connor smiles to himself.

"You still there, Connor?"

"Yes."

"You want to talk to Ollie, right?"

"Yes, if he's --"

"OLLIE!"

Connor winces and holds the phone away from
his ear.

"It's CONNOR!"

And waits.

"Connor?" His father sounds rushed, but all
right.

"Yes, Dad. I just thought I'd check in and let
you know --"

"Did you find him yet?"

"Yes, I actually had to --"

"Katie, stop throwing the basketball at David's
*head*! Kid's got killer aim. So what's the deal?"

"Well --"

"Short version. Mia hasn't shown up to help
yet."

Connor grins. It explains a lot. "The short version
is that I appear to be on something of a road
trip."

"Are bats *allowed* to go on road trips?"

If he's judged it correctly, the fifth lighted window
on the fourth floor is their room. "This one seems
to have decided he should be."

His father makes a small, impressed noise. "You
know... everything's under control out here,
Connor."

"Dad?"

"Take all the time you need, let me know if you
need anything, and..."

The connection isn't the best, and he can hear the
children better than he can hear his father, but
Connor knows the look that must be on his
father's face. It's the same one he has whenever
he's not speaking in a very clear, distinct manner
about the friends he's lost. "Dad, I..." He wants
to say he understands, and how he hadn't realized
how very much he *hadn't* understood. He wants
to ask his father about love, and he wants to know
more about the road trip than just the amusing
things that happened to all of them. And he isn't
sure how to express any of it. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, son."

*

Connor balances the salads and coffees in one
hand and knocks with the other.

"It's open."

Tim is on the bed closest to the window, sitting
up against the headboard with his shoes off and
his knees bent. His eyes are closed, and there's
a small, calm smile on his face that Connor thinks
he'd like to touch. "I take it the phone calls went
well."

Tim doesn't turn so much as swing his head on
his neck, and the smile becomes deeply sardonic.

"Or not?"

Tim laughs, and Connor joins him on the bed,
setting one salad and both coffees on the night
table before settling at the foot. "Salad?"

Connor raises an eyebrow. "Even Roy doesn't eat
Salisbury Steak. Though I could always go back?"

"No, I think I can live without the flesh of animals
between my teeth for just a *little* bit longer."

Connor peels the plastic off the forks and hands
Tim one. "Your sacrifice is noted."

Tim smiles at Connor with his eyes and begins
systematically eating the chunks of tomato. "Did
you get a chance to check in back home?"

"My father was impressed with your ability to
go against type and strike out on the open road."

"He really has a thing about Bats, doesn't he?"

Connor raises an eyebrow and takes a bite of his
own salad. It isn't *entirely* tasteless. "It seems
to be a common affliction."

"How did you manage to avoid it?" The tone of
Tim's voice is teasing, but the look in his eyes
really isn't.

"I suspect a pernicious campaign of brainwashing."

Tim looks down and his smile gets a little wider.
"I talked to Kon."

Connor nods.

"First he was mad at me, and then he was mad
at Batman, and then he was mad at Batman
*and*... Robin, and then he was mad at my
father. And Batman. And Robin. And me."

"Full circle?"

"Something like that. You know... everyone pretty
much knows that Superman has, well, super-senses,
but no one really thinks about it. If you call his
name, from pretty much *anywhere*, he'll hear
you. And if he can... he'll come for you."

Connor shifts until he's sitting cross-legged on the
bed. "Superboy thinks you should've called
Superman? Even though you had that... bargain,
with your parents?"

Tim nods. "Because I'm a 'sneaky little *bastard*,'
and, apparently, pretending otherwise is just
insane. And possibly unnatural." Tim moves on
to the cucumbers. "He has a point. If I had a
garage, I could do a decent job of making the
bike almost entirely unrecognizable. I only
needed a few tools to get rid of all the tracers on
it.

"If we headed back south to Bludhaven, I could
use Nightwing's. The work would go even faster,
and if I did a good enough job disabling the
alarms..." Tim's expression is an odd blend of
dreaminess and calculation. "It would take
Nightwing at least an hour to know I'd even
been there, and by that point..."

"We could be well on our way to anywhere.
But, Tim --"

Tim waves him off. "Don't worry. I'm not actually
planning on going underground for any significant
length of time. I just..." He sighs. "I spent the
past several months doing everything short of
lobotomizing myself in order to keep from
thinking thoughts like that one. Because I was
trying to be *good*. To live up to my end of the
bargain."

"It... was never an especially fair one."

"No. No, it wasn't. But it was an understandable
one, and the absolute best one I could get at the
time." Tim snorts. "Or maybe it was just the best
one I could think of. It feels... have you ever
been drowned?"

Connor blinks. "No..."

Tim nods again. "For a while once you're out of
the water, you just gasp. If you don't get control
of yourself quickly, you can take in too much
oxygen. If you *do*... well, you're still going to
be a little drunk. The human body is incredibly
adaptable, even for things that are fatal. You
get out of the water, and even though it's only
been a few minutes, having oxygen again is
just... it's just the most incredible feeling in
the world.

"It's almost *arousing*. And then... well, after
*that*, it takes a little while for your mind to
catch up to the idea that the air isn't going to
go away again. And every breath feels like a
miracle, or maybe just something...
incomprehensibly valuable. Something worth...
anything. I don't... I don't know how to say it.
Any better than that."

"You don't have to."

And Tim frowns, and looks like he's about to
protest, so Connor cups his knee and squeezes
until Tim looks at him again.

Until Tim *sees* him again. "If you'd like, we
could skip dinner and go straight to plotting
world domination."

Tim's eyes get wide and shocked for a long
moment, and then he's laughing. And Connor
doesn't think he *could* get tired of that, but...
it's really a *lot* of laughter. He hadn't thought
it was that funny.

"Tim...?"

"No, it's just..." Tim is breathless and flushed
and grinning. "Remind me to tell you about
what Batman got me for my sixteenth birthday."

Connor wonders if the bike has a death ray. Or,
well, probably just a maiming ray.

Tim frowns at his salad and picks out the last of
the cucumber slices before setting it aside again
and wiping his hands on one of the napkins.

"I could try to get something else...?"

"Mm. I'm not actually hungry. I'm a little... well,
probably a lot wired," Tim says, and rests a
hand on Connor's own.

There isn't a lot of pressure, but Connor still
feels more *aware* of the curve of Tim's knee
beneath his palm than he was a moment
before. He's not really hungry, either.

"I called Oracle, too."

Tim's jeans are thick, and it's hard to feel the
heat of his skin through them. "From here? I
thought...?"

"I don't mind Oracle tracing me. She'd only
hunt me down if she needed me for something."
Tim smiles ruefully and traces small, perfect
circles around Connor's knuckles. "I wouldn't
mind being needed for something, in all
honesty."

"I..." It's a little hard to think. He doesn't know
what to say, or... no. He knows exactly what he
wants to say, it's just that he can't decide which
should come first, or at all. It would be easier if
Tim stopped staring directly into his eyes, but
Connor is suddenly, irrationally positive that if
Tim *did* look away, he'd hate it.

That it would hurt.

"Tim."

Tim takes a long, shuddery breath. "I told her
how much I missed her. And then she..." A
small, twitchy smile. "She *casually* mentioned
that she'd just been speaking with Batman on
another line, and so I *casually* mentioned
how much I missed *him*. For about five minutes.
I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I
thought... I thought..."

Tim takes another breath and pushes on Connor's
hand until he can twine his fingers with Connor's
own.

He squeezes, and Connor tries to remember how
to breathe, or at least blink.

"I thought a *lot* of things, Connor, and some of
them were... really incredibly funny. Like the fact
that I'm sitting here talking about absolutely
everything except for the fact that I *missed*
you, and that when I saw you in that... that
stupid *rest stop* --"

"Don't."

And Tim's eyes are wild and hurt for a moment,
and then he turns away and starts to *pull* his
hand away, and Connor squeezes it and tries to
regroup.

"No -- I didn't mean. I didn't --"

Another breath, and this one is even deeper.
Steadier. But he doesn't look at Connor again.
"*What* shouldn't I do, Connor?"

Anything. Nothing. Connor licks his lips, and
watches the pulse beat in Tim's throat, and he
thinks he might be hungry, after all. "It's always
been so easy... with you."

Tim turns back, and his expression is only wary
on the very surface. Connor thinks he could
brush it away with a touch, and he doesn't have
the faintest idea where his rational mind has
gone.

"Tim --"

"I could hear your voice. In your letters."

"Yes, I --"

"You made me think of everything I'd lost,
Connor."

Tim's voice is even and sincere, and it's everything
he should want to hear. Everything he should
want for a *friend*, to be the catalyst that
allowed Tim to get what he needed, to have
*everything* he needed, and Connor feels
small and awful, because.

Because right now he doesn't want Tim to need
anything but him. Connor bites the inside of his
lower lip hard, *viciously*, and forces himself to
breathe. To *think*.

"I want you to be happy," he says, when he
can, and forces himself to look Tim in the eye,
too.

And the look in Tim's eyes has absolutely nothing
to do with happiness. At least... no kind of
happiness that Connor feels qualified to even
*pretend* to understand. The sharpness is
back, the diamond-hardness and steady, watchful
calculation. It's a Robin look, and it couldn't be
moreso if Tim were actually wearing his mask.

"Tim...?"

"Really?"

Connor blinks. "I'm not sure --"

"Is that what you really want? Strike that -- is
that really the *only* thing you want?"

He thinks about lying. He thinks about it very,
very seriously, but then he thinks about reflexes,
and. "No."

Tim squeezes his hand and uses his other to
move Connor's salad to the bedside table. And
then he shifts, moving up onto his knees. Moving
closer, until Connor can feel Tim's breath on his
face. On his mouth. "You made me think of
everything I'd lost," he says again.

"I know --"

"And everything I could have, if..."

It takes a moment to realize that Tim isn't going
to finish the thought, and another to drag his
attention away from Tim's mouth, from the fact
that, this close, it's not remotely difficult to feel
the heat of him. And he could feel even more.
"If?"

This close, it's easier to feel Tim's smile than it
is to see it. "If I stopped worrying about what
everyone else wanted from me. What they
needed." He twists his hand free of Connor's
and slips it between them, dragging the palm
up over Connor's chest before cupping his
cheek.

Connor feels his eyes slipping closed, feels
himself *wanting*. His hands feel useless and
awkward and he knows -- he thinks he knows --
exactly what would make them feel better,
but -- "Everyone?"

Tim's teeth brush against Connor's mouth.
Another smile. "Almost everyone."

"Tim --"

The kiss is soft and slow and -- not gentle. Tim's
mouth only *looks* soft, and Connor hadn't
even realized he'd noticed it enough to be
wrong about it. But he had. He *is*, and Tim
feels --

Tim moans, low-voiced and *rough*, like it's a
sound he's never made before, and the sound
Connor hears *himself* make is very similar.

"Connor. Your mouth..." And Tim's hand tightens
on his face, and Connor opens his mouth wider,
but Tim doesn't kiss him again. He just... he
drags his mouth over Connor's own, back and
forth in a slow, wet nuzzle, pressing his cheek
to Connor's mouth, and his chin, and his mouth
again, and Connor feels himself shuddering.

"Tim --"

"It's so -- you're so --" The hand on his face
tightens again, almost flexing, and Tim starts to
pull away and Connor moans and follows,
sucking fast, hard kisses until he can get a feel
for the positioning and tilt his head enough that.

That it's *perfect*, and Tim slides his hand over
the back of Connor's head and starts to rub,
starts to *stroke*, and whimpers into Connor's
mouth and Connor wants. He *wants*.

He shoves his hands between them -- *has* to
shove, and he doesn't know when they'd gotten
so close, and he honestly isn't sure if he cares.
Tim's t-shirt is much thinner than his jeans, and
his body is just as lean and hard as he'd
imagined.

As he'd *always* imagined, and when Tim slips
his tongue into Connor's mouth, he sucks hard
just to *keep* it there.

And then just to make Tim whimper like that
again, and scratch at Connor's scalp. He needs
to take another breath, but he isn't sure he
*can*, not if it means letting go, and Tim's
other hand is between them, too. Covering
Connor's hand and pressing it harder against
his own body and --

Tim pulls out of the kiss gasping. Or maybe he
is. He's not sure. He doesn't *care*. "Tim."

Tim's face is flushed and his lips are wet and
his eyes are wide. And then narrow, when he
tugs on Connor's hand until it's over his own nipple.
Hard through the shirt and Connor can feel his
heartbeat, too.

"I don't know what I'm doing," he says, because it's
the first sentence he can clearly form in his own
mind, but it really doesn't have much to do with w
hat he's *doing*. With the *touching*.

Tim arches into it, and Connor strokes his nipple
through the t-shirt. He wants to feel it, the
shocking, faintly obscene hardness of it through
cotton, and the way his touches are making Tim
breathe faster. More --

"*Connor*."

The urgency in Tim's voice is palpable, undeniable,
like a command spoken directly to Connor's
nervous system, something to be obeyed without
thought or hesitation. There's a thump and Tim
makes a small, muffled noise into Connor's mouth,
and the part of his mind still thinking -- he isn't
grateful for it -- wants him to know that he's just
shoved Tim against the headboard. That he's
pressing his body to Tim's own as tightly as he
can, that he's kissing him, selfish and greedy.

He's not sure he can stop.

He can't... he can't *think* about stopping, not
even when Tim bucks and shoves back at him,
because...

Because he's only trying to *move*. Spreading
his knees and wrapping his thighs around
Connor's own and moaning. He won't stop, and
Connor thinks he might be going crazy.

Quietly in his mind and anything but with his
own body, needy and grasping. He can't. He
can't --

He slips his tongue between Tim's lips and it feels
perfect, amazing, like any other act his body
was supposed to perform. *Primed* to perform, and
he feels himself shaking, hears himself making a
soft, constant stream of *noise*, and feels *Tim*.

Taking everything and moving against him, sharp,
grinding movements because Connor isn't giving
him any room and sharp, grinding pleasure.

Heat.

Connor breaks the kiss to pant, to open his eyes
again, and it's a wonderful mistake. *Tim's* eyes
are open and focused on his own. Wild again under
a thin, perfect layer of control that Connor wants to
*feel*.

And then Tim looks at Connor's mouth again. A
hard, *deliberate* look, and he licks his swollen lips
and --

He'd *made* them that way. Connor made them
look that red, that soft and wet, and he's not sure
which of them moves first, and it doesn't matter.
The kiss is hard, shockingly, intensely perfect, like
the first time everything had fallen into place and
he'd *felt* the lessons his teachers had tried to
give him about the bow, as opposed to merely
hearing them.

His heart is beating faster from the wonder of it,
and the sense of raw potential. A *future* of this
perfection, if he can only stop being helplessly
enamored with it for long enough to do it *again*.
Kiss him again, and again, and Tim's hands are
on his shoulders and Tim's lean hips are moving
against Connor's stomach. The *heat* of him,
and -- Connor is supremely conscious of the height
difference, in a way that just hadn't *mattered*
when the only thing he did with Tim physically
was patrol.

He rears up on his knees and Tim follows, tilting
his head back on an uncomfortable-looking angle
to keep kissing him. He doesn't want Tim to be
uncomfortable, or in pain, and he can't keep
himself from *holding* Tim's head in that position,
from stroking in and in with his tongue and pressing
closer still and --

"Oh God -- oh God, Connor, I *feel* you --"

He feels *himself*. Hard, and the sense of
embarrassment and discomfort is absolutely
meaningless to the way he can rock his hips against
Tim's own. "I... Tim --"

Tim bites Connor's lip and strokes his back, his
sides. Clutches Connor's hips and *pulls*. "Connor,
I want... I can't --"

And it doesn't matter how long Tim has been out
of action, how long since he's done any of the
things Connor remembered so clearly every time
his *e-mail* had chimed for attention. His hands
are still hard, still *strong*. As impossible not to
feel, not to *covet* as it is to look away from his
wide eyes, his red mouth. "I want to taste you,
Tim."

"Oh -- *God* --"

And Tim thrusts *hard* against him, hands digging
painfully into Connor's hips and head thrown back.
Connor strokes Tim's cheekbones with his thumbs
and watches, feels, *wants*. Feels Tim shaking, the
heat of him rising -- he'd just had an orgasm.

Connor kisses him again, stroking his cheekbones
harder to keep from just *clutching* at him and
swallowing the sharp, sweet sounds Tim's making.

He wants...

Tim slides his hands from Connor's hips up over
his back, and the moans get lower, longer. Connor
can *feel* him calming down, and it just makes
him want more. He's desperately aware that he's
been holding Tim against a *wall*, but he doesn't
have any idea what he wants to do about it. The
best he can manage is to pull out of the kiss again
and move his hands to Tim's shoulders and... stare.

Tim's pupils are visibly dilated, and his mouth is even
more swollen than it was a few minutes ago. And
he's smiling ruefully.

"I needed a shower when we *got* here. Now... it's
pretty much a necessity."

He doesn't want to *let* Tim off the bed. He feels
himself tightening his hands on Tim's shoulders and
keeps himself from shoving solely by act of will. He
can't keep his hips from rocking.

He doesn't know how long he's been *doing* that.

"Tim." Tim's eyes go shuttered, unreadable, and
Connor thinks he might be squeezing too hard. He
can't stop doing that, either.

"On the other hand..." And Tim strokes down to
Connor's waist, slipping his hands under Connor's
t-shirt and digging in with his thumbs.

"I --"

"I *might* feel more comfortable if I just got out of
these clothes." There's a certain degree of
amusement in Tim's voice, but it doesn't seem to
be directed at *him*, and --

"I'd like that. I --"

"You said you wanted to taste me." Tim's lashes
dip, shadowing his cheeks. And then he leans in,
breathing against Connor's throat. "I can't... I can't
even imagine."

Connor shudders, and wraps his arms around Tim.
He just wants to feel him more, and slide a hand
into his thick, dark hair, and --

"Connor..."

And roll them onto the bed, roll Tim onto his
*back*, and the move is awkward, shamefully clumsy,
and Tim doesn't stop him, or even try. He's tugging
on Connor's shirt and kissing his throat and Connor
groans and grinds down helplessly. Again --

"Or we could do this," Tim says, laughing breathlessly.

Again, and it's something else to be afraid of. There's
so much he wants to do, so much he's *hungry* for,
but he's too trapped in *this* hunger to touch the
rest of it. And Tim is moving beneath him, locking
his legs around Connor's waist. His hands move
restlessly over Connor's back, and Connor's mind
tries and fails to find the pattern, the *reason*
behind it.

There is none -- Tim is just *touching* him, the
way Connor is just --

Losing himself, and holding on desperately to
everything else. He digs his fingers into the coverlet
and wants and aches and *moves* --

"God, Connor, yes --"

His pants are hurting him. His *body* is hurting him,
and demanding more of the same pain, and Tim
shoves Connor's shirt up to his armpits and slips his
hands back between them, rubbing Connor's nipples
with his fingertips --

"I liked it... when you did this to me --"

Connor gasps, moans and comes in his pants. 'Just
like Tim,' he thinks, and moans again.

And realizes his arms are shaking only when Tim
starts to stroke them. And realizes his eyes are
squeezed shut only when Tim calls his name.

He blinks them open again, and tries to think beyond
the feel of his own sweat. The smell of both of
them, and the thick, coiling way the air seems to
settle in his lungs. Pushing them open, filling them.

Everything is suggestive, obvious, and he isn't sure
whether to be terrified or just lost.

And Tim looks worried.

"I'm all right," he says, reflexively, and the worry on
Tim's face immediately shifts to something harder.
Connor laughs at himself, or tries to. It comes out
nearly soundless, and he pushes up on his knees
and takes several slow, deliberate breaths. "No, I'm
not all right."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Tim's hand is light
on his thigh.

No. Yes. Connor laughs again and scrubs a hand
over his face. "I'm not sure. I..." He looks at Tim
again, and it feels as though he's contracted some
strange form of blindness. He's almost positive he
used to be able to look at Tim without getting lost
in the details of his appearance.

The way Tim's skin is flushed, and the way he can't
help but wonder if he'll be able to *let* Tim's
mouth heal. The absolute patience in Tim's eyes
that seems to exist in perfect harmony with... Tim's
hard again.

Connor swallows and breathes. "How do you do
that?"

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"I want you so badly I can't *think* right now, and
you..." Connor presses Tim's hand against his thigh.

Tim blinks, and then braces himself on his elbows,
smiling ruefully. "I have a lot of practice in...
waiting for what I want. Or just assuming I won't
get it."

Connor nods slowly. "The past several months."

"Something like that." Another fine, edged smile.

Connor reaches out to touch it with his free hand,
and Tim lets him. Watches him and holds Connor's
gaze and tilts his head back just a little when
Connor traces his lower lip.

"I've wanted a lot of things, Connor, and I've
*known* it."

The motion of Tim's lips against his fingertips is
making it very difficult to pay strict attention to
what he's saying.

"Not letting yourself think about something you
want only *looks* similar to not knowing you
want it. I've used that." Tim wraps one hand
around Connor's wrist, but doesn't move it.
Just... holds it there.

"Against whom?"

"Everyone who wanted to get close. Everyone I
thought *might* want to get close. Fear only
looks similar to caution."

Connor nods, and stares into Tim's eyes until
Tim looks away.

"This hotel isn't full, Connor."

"I... what?"

He can see the corner of Tim's smile, but he
can't see his eyes. "Between us, we have more
than enough cash to have gotten separate
rooms. I never bothered to ask."

Connor frowns. "But this is a double. There's
more than enough room --"

Tim squeezes his wrist. "I never intended for us
to use both beds."

"I --"

"No one would ask questions if I went downstairs
and got myself another room, and. The last thing I
want to do is take advantage of you."

Connor thinks about the hand on his wrist. Tim must
know exactly how fast and unsteady his pulse has
become, and part of him wonders what he thinks
about it. If he believes it's fear. The rest... "Is it
really? The last thing you want, that is."

Tim looks up at him again and...

About a year ago, Tim had mentioned working
with 'his boss' in one of the e-mails he'd sent, and
had made it sound -- in his subtle, careful way --
as though it was an event. Something that
occurred all too rarely. It hadn't seemed strange
in the least.

Tim had always been... someone whose only
apparent similarity with the Batman was his
undeniable competence and skill. Now, though,
it's rather easier to see what his father had
seemed to.

Connor smiles ruefully, mostly at himself. "You're
a little bit terrifying, aren't you?"

"I'm usually better at hiding it," Tim says, and
drags his thumb over Connor's pulse.

"When you want to."

"Yes."

"Tim --"

"The *last* thing I want, right now, is to stop
touching you. But it's irrelevant, because I know
exactly how to control myself. The fact that you
know what I want has nothing to do --"

"It isn't irrelevant."

Tim hisses a breath between his teeth, but doesn't
say anything.

"Isn't that the point of all of this? Letting yourself
have what you want?"

Tim's expression is blank and steady for several
moments, and then his eyes narrow. It isn't hostile
so much as... curious. "Is that what's bothering
you, Connor? That you want too many things?"

Connor smiles ruefully. "That's a part of it. But
knowing I'm not alone is... comforting isn't the
right word. At least, it isn't the only one."

"One of the best excuses for never showing what
you feel is that you never have to know, for sure,
that the other person doesn't feel the same."

Connor twists his hand until it's twined with Tim's
own again. "And there is, perhaps, a difference
between denial of the self and... self-denial."

"Connor..." Tim frowns. "We're talking around a
lot of things."

"Yes."

"Does it bother you?"

It's a good question. More than that... "I'm not
accustomed to this. Any of it, Tim."

Tim nods slowly, and watches him. Connor spent
much of his training with the bow deliberately
not allowing himself to use his vision, so as not
to risk distraction. He thinks Tim must have
spent much of his *own* training learning how
not to do so much as blink.

"I... you know what you want. *I* know what I
feel... even if I'm not sure I have the words for
it."

Tim tugs on their hands and... no. He uses the
leverage of their grip to sit up entirely, and then
move on to his knees. Connor leans in when
Tim does, and closes his eyes for the kiss. It feels like
it should be a comforting one, or a sweet one, but
Connor frankly doesn't have enough experience to
make that kind of judgment.

All he has is the knowledge -- *body* knowledge --
that Tim is still hard, and that the kiss is only slow
and easy because Tim has the sort of silent
self-control that comes off as command.

But he doesn't think he'll feel like following orders
for very long.

"Connor," Tim says, pulling out of the kiss, and
Connor licks his mouth before he can say anything
else.

And *then* leans back. And pulls off his shirt.

There's something avid and blackly glittering in
Tim's eyes. "I was just going to mention that the
shower isn't very small," he says, and presses his
fingertips over Connor's sternum. Lightly.

Connor blinks, and thinks about it. "From what
Arsenal has suggested, the shower can be a
dangerous place for sexual activity."

Tim's mouth twitches. "And this is why I don't
*let* Nightwing tell me stories about his days as
a Titan."

"That works?"

"Not even remotely," Tim says, and lets go of
Connor's hand before moving off the bed and
stripping off his own shirt. His skin is pale and
scarred, and Connor wonders if part of the
reason Tim's parents had reacted so badly to
finding out the truth is because it truly was --
is -- written all over him. "I'm not afraid of
death by slippery tile, Connor," and he starts
walking backwards toward the shower.

Connor follows, and works on his fly. "No?"

"I know you can watch my back."

"Wash it, perhaps..."

Tim grins and unbuttons his fly with a flick of
his wrist. "You're not watching?"

Connor shoves his pants and boxers down at
the same time, bending and stepping out of
them, and feeling something inside himself seize
and burn at the way Tim stops moving backwards
at the same time. "You're better at it than I am,"
he says, and watches Tim shove his own pants
down.

His legs are just as scarred as the rest of him,
perhaps more. It makes sense -- the tights were
never as much protection as the tunic. And...

He's naked. They both are, but somehow Tim's
nudity seems far more important.

"I don't know, Connor... I think you could be
taught."

And he intends to say something, to continue
the *game* of this, but he isn't entirely sure
what it would be. And it's much easier to just
close the distance between them and kiss Tim
again, to keep moving them together and --

Stop, because there's a wall there, and his aim
hasn't been this terrible since he was a child.
On the other hand, it feels wonderful. Even
better than it had on the bed, because now
there's nothing between himself and Tim's skin.
Silky heat and the dozens of subtly jagged
interruptions.

"I wish I had more scars," he says, and Tim
growls, low in his throat. "Yours feel... so good."

"Connor," and Tim is petting his chest, stroking
him, finding every scar he *does* have.

"You can touch me... anywhere."

Tim eyes are bright and narrow.

"I want you to. I want..." He cups Tim's jaw and
pushes his head to the side and leans in. The
first lick feels strange, awkward, but the taste of
Tim's skin...

"Connor..."

Salt. Sweat and *skin*, and when he licks again
Tim grunts and tilts his head a little further. 'I
can't even imagine,' he'd said, but Connor...
absolutely can.

He presses a kiss over Tim's pulse-point, and
Tim nuzzles his hand. His breathing isn't ragged,
but it's loud. Sharp. Connor presses his tongue
to the beat of Tim's pulse and feels it get faster
and more urgent and he wants so much *more*.

He sucks, lightly --

"Harder --"

Harder, and Tim groans and rakes his short,
even nails down Connor's chest and Connor feels
his knees try to buckle and... lets them.

"*Connor* --"

Tim's stomach is flat, hard and defined. Saltier.
It's easier if he doesn't think about what he's
doing, if he just lets himself *taste* and feel,
because the fact that he *doesn't* know has
nothing whatsoever to do with how wonderful
it feels to shove his tongue into Tim's navel --

"Oh -- oh *God* --"

Tim's fingers press and scratch at his scalp, and
Tim's erection bumps against Connor's chin, and
when Connor licks his way down the taste
changes. Thicker, a little sweeter, and Connor moans
and squeezes Tim's hips and keeps licking.

"Connor, *please* --"

"Oh, Tim... you taste so *good*." And it's the
absolute truth, even though a small, no longer sane
part of his mind is laughing hysterically about how
he'll *never* be a vegan, now. But mostly...

It's the feel. Tim shaking under his hands and
sweating for his tongue, arching and pushing
toward him, *wanting* this.

"I... I like having my mouth on you --"

And Tim makes a harsh, animal sound and
*bucks*.

"God, Tim, can --"

"Suck me. Please suck me -- God, your
*mouth* --"

And Tim takes one hand off Connor's head and
wraps it around the base of his erection, and his
other hand *spasms* against Connor's cheek, and
Connor leans in --

"Oh... oh *please* --"

It feels like slow-time to drag his tongue over the
head, like the moment just after he's gotten off
the last shot he can, and he's down to his other
skills. His body and his mind and his heart, and
the taste is making his heart beat faster, but Tim
doesn't *want* to be licked.

"Oh... oh..."

He wants to be sucked. Connor wraps his lips
around the head and groans. The taste is
somehow *more*, like this, and the feel --

"I -- *Connor* --"

He sucks *hard*, and Tim shouts, twists and
shudders in Connor's hands and only the fact that
he's actually *holding* Tim is keeping him from...
thrusting. Pushing in. He could...

Connor moans again, and tries to suck and lick at
the same. He wants to spend *time* on this...
and the reason why has very little to do with
wanting to make it better for Tim, as opposed
to just...

Going down a little more, pressing up with his
tongue just to feel Tim sliding over it, feel him
opening Connor's mouth --

"Please -- don't stop --"

-- until the head bumps against the back of
Connor's throat and he has to moan again --

"*Oh* --"

And again, on purpose, because Tim's shaking
even harder, hips making fast, ragged pushing
motions under Connor's hands. There's an
almost *helpless* feel to it, and Connor opens
his eyes and looks up and *aches*.

Tim's head is thrown back and every muscle is
tensed, arching. A flush spills down his chest
and Tim is sucking on his own fingers just like...
just like --

He pulls his fingers out of his mouth with a
sudden, sharp yank --

"Stop. You have to --"

Connor blinks and pulls off. "Tim?"

And Tim *looks* at him, eyes wide and almost
panicked -- "*Connor* --"

Squeezing himself hard and squeezing his eyes
shut and coming all over Connor's throat and face.
"Oh, Tim..."

Tim whimpers and shudders once, all over, knees
buckling. Connor catches him and Tim pushes them
both down to the floor, kissing him hard. Connor
feels his mind freeze, but his body doesn't.
*Won't*. He wraps his arms around Tim and kisses
back, arching up.

And then Tim pulls out of the kiss and licks *him*.
No, licks his own come off Connor's face, sucking
and kissing.

"I didn't -- mean -- God, Connor, I can't --"

Connor slides one hand into Tim's hair and pulls,
just a little, until Tim is looking at him again.
"You're so beautiful."

And Tim's eyes are wide and full and... glittery
with humor.

"What?"

Tim leans in and nuzzles Connor's throat, breathes
on him and laughs, a little. "We're not making it to
the shower yet."

"Ah. Was this part of your plan, as well?" There's
something incredible about the feel of Tim over
him, and the fact that he's still naked, that the
skin of his back is still fine and sleek under
Connor's fingertips and palms.

And that, when he shifts half to the side and
strokes Connor's chest and stomach there's just
more of him to feel, more ways for them to
touch. He'd like to spend a great deal of time just
finding every place on Tim's body that... makes him
hum quietly, just like now.

Connor presses a little harder at the base of Tim's
skull and watches Tim's eyes narrow. "I really am
curious about... what you wanted to do. With me."

Tim hums again and presses up against Connor's
hand. And starts tracing small, not-entirely-ticklish
circles around Connor's nipple with his thumb. "I
wasn't thinking of specifics. Not really."

"No?" Another shift, and Tim's thigh is between
Connor's own, nudging. Rubbing. Connor arches
against it and can't decide whether the feel or the
expression on Tim's face is better.

The tightness and concentration. He doesn't look
so different as the way he does when he's
working -- *was* working, and it's probably not a
good thing that Connor can't quite imagine a future
without, at least, the possibility of patrolling with
Tim again. He won't think about that, yet.

He doesn't think he *can*. Not with the scrape of
that short, even fingernail over his nipple. "Tim --"

"I spent most of the day enjoying the feel of you
pressed to my back." Another scrape, and Connor
gasps.

"I did, too."

"And in the diner. I wanted to kiss you. You looked...
like you wouldn't mind." Tim's voice is quiet and
matter-of-fact. His eyes are not.

If Tim doesn't go back to vigilantism, those
expressions would never be hidden. Connor
swallows, and strokes Tim's cheek with the back
of his hand. "I would've been surprised."

Tim nods, and moves his hand from Connor's chest,
wrapping it around his wrist instead. "I thought you
might be," he says, and presses his mouth to
Connor's palm.

It isn't a kiss. Not entirely. Tim's dragging his lips
over Connor's palm and breathing heat... all through
him. Connor feels himself start to sweat and pushes a
little harder against Tim's thigh. And then *bucks*,
because Tim is licking his hand in slow, firm lines.

"Do you want my mouth on you, Connor?"

"*Yes* -- I -- *oh* --"

Tim's hand is firm and sure around Connor's erection,
and the first squeeze makes his hips thrust, *work*.
His own greed has stopped being surprising, and the
fear seems increasingly irrelevant, but there's
something else, too.

Something dark and wild and subtle about this, about
*sex*.

Connor watches Tim move on him, over him. Tim's
gaze moves over him constantly, steadily. There's a
science to it, as Connor suspects would be true about
anything and everything Tim did, but there's also
*hunger*. Lust, and Connor thinks that it might be
the most dangerous thing of all.

More than the feel of Tim pushing his thighs apart,
more than the scrape of his teeth on Connor's fingers,
and the slow, hard, *promising* stroke of his hand on
Connor's erection --

"God, Connor..."

Heat, Connor thinks. *Wet*, and he curls up before
he can think about it, just to see Tim's reddened,
dangerous mouth wrapped around him, to see the
way those eyes *finally* flutter closed, because Tim
wants...

Tim wants to feel this, concentrate, feel *him*. Taste
him and --

"*Tim* --"

Hear him moan his name, just like this.

It's the hunger Connor wants. Tim's quiet, strangled
moans -- louder when Connor buries his hands in his
hair -- and the sound of his own desperate panting,
the need, the sheer, undeniable, unambiguous reality
of the way Tim's making his thighs tremble.

His hands spasm, clench --

The sound Tim makes is slightly different, and Connor
knows he's pulling too hard. He manages to get
one hand out of Tim's hair, but then Tim moves his
*own* hand and --

Connor hears himself shouting, *feels* it as just
another sensation, just another ripple of consequence
from Tim swallowing him. Taking him -- taking him
*in*.

"Tim..." It's a whisper, a moan, and he isn't even sure
it's remotely audible, but before he can try again,
he's coming. Pulling Tim's hair and curling in even
further on himself and he can't --

Skin and heat, wet --

Tim's muffled, high-throated whine --

Connor hears a thump and gradually realizes that
he's no longer sitting up, and that he's just bounced
his own head on the floor. He's almost sure that will,
eventually, be painful, but right now...

Right now, all he can see is Tim rising above him
like the stark, shocking mockery of some kind of
myth, pale and scarred and damp with sweat,
grinning with his eyes and wiping his mouth with
the back of his hand.

"Tim."

"Connor," Tim says, and his voice is rough. Amused.
Beautiful.

"I think I'd like to do that again."

"Good," Tim says, and straddles Connor's waist.

*

Connor blinks awake, and he isn't sure why until
he turns on his side. The pillow is faintly damp
against his cheek, and smells like the hotel's
shampoo. And Tim is watching him.

"Good... morning?"

"Mm-hm."

Details are rising up out of the haze, slowly but
surely. The curtains are the sort of inadequate
Connor appreciates, letting in a warm, buttery
wash of sunlight. It's at Tim's back, so his face is
mostly shadowed, but he doesn't look tired so
much as... calmly watchful.

Patient.

Connor raises an eyebrow.

Tim shifts, and Connor watches the sheet slip
down over Tim's bare shoulder, and remembers
that they're both naked, and remembers why
with his entire body. The stutter of his fingers
over Tim's wet skin, the feel of tile against his
back...

"You're wondering if this is going to be the sort
of 'morning after' people make jokes about."

Tim's smile is rueful, and he shifts again, as
though he'd *like* to move. "They aren't very
good jokes."

"No," Connor says, and reaches beneath the
covers. He finds Tim's hip before anything else,
and it's smooth and warm. The unscarred one.
"I never thought so," he says, and squeezes.

Tim covers Connor's hand with his own. "I'm
tempted to be cautious."

"For me, or for yourself?"

Brief, glittery-eyed smile. "For consistency," Tim
says, and pushes their linked hands down to where
he's even warmer. And hard.

"It's good to resist temptation."

Half-gasped laughter. "I know I can be strong," and
he squeezes Connor's hand when Connor wraps
his fist around him.

"I have faith in you. Perhaps we can meditate
together," he says, and starts to stroke.

Tim jerks and shudders, head tilted back. Connor
watches the tendons in Tim's throat grow tensely
visible, and licks his lips.

"Or perhaps you could just continue driving me
insane."

"God, Connor --" Tim takes a deep, shuddery
breath and Connor has to lean in. Tim's throat
tastes like sleep and the memory of soap.

"You're doing a very good job at it so far," he
murmurs, and tongues the hollow of Tim's throat.

"I -- try -- please, faster, do it -- oh God --"

He can see the coverlet shifting out of the corner
of his eye with the motion of his hand and Tim's
hips. He tightens his hand and sucks at Tim's
pulse-point, pressing with his tongue so he can
feel it race, feel it lose its steadiness.

Me, too, he wants to say, but then he wouldn't
be able to hear the sounds Tim is making. Soft,
growling moans, rhythmic and intoxicating.

He sucks harder for a moment before pulling
away, shifting to straddle Tim's legs and knock
the covers back. Tim is flushed, panting. His
erection is dark with blood, wet at the tip --

"Connor, don't... don't stop --"

"No," he says, and he'd like to be more specific, but
words are nowhere near as important, as *vital*
as pressing his erection to Tim's own. And he
hadn't been sure of what he wanted beyond just
*contact*, but Tim opens his eyes and looks at
him, seemingly *into* him, and wraps their hands
around both of them --

"Oh, you feel --"

"*Tim* --"

It's better, amazing, and it shouldn't be so
surprising, but he's almost glad of it. Tim looks like
he's drinking in every expression on his face, like
it's just making it better for him.

Connor rocks his hips and tries to keep his eyes
open against the feel, the slick, sliding pleasure
and *heat* --

"I'm -- Connor, you feel so good --"

Moving together, driving into their joined hands,
and Connor slides his free hand up the center of
Tim's chest. He just wants to feel this, to have as
much of it as he can. So greedy for this, so --

"Connor, I --"

Tim tenses, flexes and groans and comes all over
their hands. All over *Connor* --

"*Please* --"

He can't let go and he can't look away --

"Connor -- *Connor* --"

So wet, so *hot*, and Tim's eyes are wide and
blue and deep --

"Do it --"

Connor jerks hard and comes, bracing himself on his
knees to keep from falling. He's oversensitive, hurting
and needing, and he can't tell which of them gasps
louder when he can finally make himself let go.

"Connor..." And Tim's curling up on himself and
stroking Connor's thigh, but... his hand. The smell of
them and --

The taste. Connor licks his fingers and shivers.
Both of them, together --

Tim's hand flexes on his thigh, fingers digging
in -- "Oh God, that's hot..."

And Connor sucks his fingers and tries to think,
tries to open his eyes and get something like
calm back, but every deep breath just makes him
taste it more, *feel* it more. He can't stop until
his fingers are clean again, and when he does
open his eyes, Tim is looking at him like a meal.

He watches Tim slip the tip of his tongue out
between his lips. It's a very *deliberate* motion,
and it takes a moment before Connor can even
*remember* that he'd been reasonably calm
when he'd woken up...

No more than ten minutes ago.

Connor smiles around his own fingers, and Tim
smiles back.

Pulling them out of his mouth feels like... like a
*tease*. "Tim..."

Tim digs his fingernails into Connor's thigh and
drags them down. Lightly.

"I was going to suggest breakfast."

"Mm-hm." Up.

"But your arguments against it are surprisingly
articulate and compelling."

"I'm on the debate team," Tim says and sits up,
stroking Connor's sides and nuzzling his chest.

Connor strokes the back of Tim's neck. "Really?"

"Nope."

*

Breakfast was terrible, but then Connor hadn't really
expected any better. He doesn't want to think
about how long those scrambled eggs had been
sitting out in the steno-warmers before they'd
arrived.

On the other hand, they *did* have tea -- albeit
stale -- and it makes up for rather a lot.

Tim takes his coffee black, and in the back of his
mind Roy is snickering helplessly. It doesn't
matter save in the way it adds to the humming,
pleasant feeling that seems determined to work
its way through him.

He's on the back of Tim's motorcycle again, and
every part of him feels pleasantly... used.

Intellectually, he knows it won't last. The only
question is whether the need for a strenuous
patrol will make him restless before the need to
hold Tim against something again.

Taste him again.

Connor squeezes Tim's waist and watches the
road.

"What are you thinking about, Connor?"
Low-voiced, honest curiosity.

"Sex."

"I... yeah, now I am, too. You might be bad for
my health."

"Only if I distract you from driving, I hope."

A brief laugh, and the bike swerves as Tim passes
a minivan that seems to be entirely full of toys.
There may or may not be children in there,
somewhere. And a driver. "Were you planning on
it?" Tim's voice is a quiet tease.

"There's a strange -- and probably suicidal --
temptation to the idea." It wouldn't take much
effort at all to lift Tim's jacket and shirt, and, say,
press his knuckles against Tim's abdomen.

"Mm."

Connor regrets the wind. Tim's body is clean, but
he hasn't bought new clothes, and Connor's are
too big for him. If they weren't moving -- and
Connor weren't wearing the green helmet --
he'd be able to smell Tim very clearly. The
thought makes him want to lick his teeth.

"I'm surprised," Tim says, and swerves them
around a pick-up truck.

"By?"

"I expected you to have more reservations."

Connor turns his head and presses the other side
of the helmet against Tim's back. "Even after?"

"After, during, before..."

Connor laughs. "That doesn't seem... pointless, to
you?"

"It seems *incredibly* pointless, actually, but it
also never seems to stop anyone."

"I've always found that acceptance makes things
easier, in the long run."

Tim's laugh is humorless and sharp. "I haven't
managed it very well."

Connor smiles to himself. "Perhaps if the universe
had asked you to accept more rather wonderful
sex and less repression and involuntary
imprisonment you might have found it easier."

"You just might be onto something there,
Connor..."

There's a sign advertising a rest stop, and Tim
moves them into the right lane. There will,
undoubtedly, be a gas station, and that gas station
will almost certainly have a telephone.

It isn't that he'd forgotten the fact that Tim really
does have to call his parents. He hadn't. It's just
that there's a part of his mind...

It's isn't just the sex, or the affection, or the fact
that he could, honestly, imagine himself being
quite happy if, when *he* had to go home, Tim
could sit next to him on the plane. It's all of it,
and more, and the whole of it has merged into
something like an eight-hundred pound gorilla of
shameless greed.

For a sixteen year old runaway with more
connections and responsibilities than Connor can
entirely wrap his mind around.

As much as Connor has enjoyed -- reveled in --
his own family, and the life he's made in Star City
with them, he can't help but want Tim to have...
much less than he does.

They pull into the gas station, and Tim cuts the
engine. Gradually, the rumbling purr of the bike
fades to nothing while the other road sounds get
louder, and faintly oppressive.

"Connor..."

"You have to call home," he says, and winces at
his inability to keep the question out of his voice.

"Yes. But... I don't have to *go* home."

Connor squeezes Tim reflexively and forces himself
to think around the pound of his heart. "Perhaps
not right away --"

"What could they do to stop me? Really."

It's a good question and a terrible one. Connor lets
go and leans back, pulling off the helmet. And
waits for Tim to turn around and take off his own.

His eyes are hard, with anger waiting just beneath
the surface. Stubbornness.

"To stop you? Practically nothing, Tim. But... this
was never entirely about you, was it?"

"Maybe --" And Tim bites his lip, face twisting into
something harsh and pained for just a moment. "I
don't want to go back there, just to pretend I'm...
 someone I'm not. I..."

Connor rests his hand on Tim's back. "I can't
imagine --"

"I hate my room. I hate the sight of it, I hate the
*smell* of it. I hate the fact that everything there
belongs to the person my father wants me to be,
as opposed to the person I *am*. I think..." Tim
closes his eyes for a moment. "I didn't tell you
why I left."

"I'd... formed a few theories."

Tim snorts. "I was sitting at the dinner table, and
my parents were talking about... about getting
the fucking *car* serviced, and I was eating my
freaking lamb chops and watching my father's
throat and thinking..."

"Tim --"

"So I left." Tim scrubs a hand back through his
hair and shifts, and Connor stands up to give Tim
room to swing off the bike. "I left, and, in
retrospect, I think it was a *good* decision on
my part."

Connor watches Tim's expression fade into
something sardonic.

"Considering."

"Tim. They have to..." Connor swallows. "Perhaps
you'll be able to renegotiate."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "That was nearly
unambiguous."

It's tempting to laugh at that, or laugh it *off*,
but. Connor deliberately takes Tim's hand. "I don't
want you to go back home if it's something... if it
will be bad for you. I've been fantasizing about
taking you home with *me*. But... I can't help but
think that there's more for you in Gotham than
just your parents. And I don't want to take you
away from that."

Tim stares at their hands. "And I don't, actually,
want to *run* away from any of it." A squeeze,
and then Tim lets go. "I... I'll be back."

Connor leans lightly against the bike and watches
him go. The phone is on the side of the small
store, and the gas station attendant spares a
glance for Tim before joining him.

"Help you?"

Connor blinks, and looks at the bike. "Er. I believe
my friend wanted the tank filled."

The attendant nods, and gives the bike a thorough,
approving once-over. It's the sort of look that
makes Connor feel tempted to pet the seat
affectionately.

He smiles to himself.

"So where's the tank?"

That's... an excellent question. "Perhaps it would
be best to wait for my friend to return."

"Uh, huh." The attendant starts a slow circuit
around the bike, wiping his hands on a rag that
might have been clean while Connor was still at
the ashram.

Connor backs away to give the man room to
covet.

"So what kind of bike *is* this?"

'Motorized' is probably not the right answer. "I
believe it's... customized."

"Yeah, I figured..." The man crouches by the
back tire and looks as though he'd like to poke
at it.

Connor checks, but Tim is still on the phone. The
light breeze is ruffling his hair, and the phone is
blocking whatever expression is on his face.

"What's this button --"

"Don't touch that."

The attendant looks up at him, one finger poised
just above a small, well-hidden button that *might*
be entirely innocuous.

"Er."

"What, is it gonna electrocute me?"

Quite possibly. "It's... private," Connor says, and
fixes a smile on his face.

The attendant gives him the sort of look Connor
tends to reserve for drug dealers attempting to
convince him they're only 'hanging out.' He's
going to have to work on that smile.

"I think... well..."

"Oh good, you found the trunk-compartment
release," Tim says, and crouches next to the
attendant with a smile. "But you want the tank."
He slips his fingers beneath... something and a
perfectly innocuous-appearing gas tank pops
open.

"Hunh," the attendant says, and turns the look
on Tim. "You're pretty quiet, there."

Tim's smile is a marvel of perfect, benign
blandness. "There's a lot of traffic noise. Could
you fill me up? We've got to get back on the
road."

And then he stands, wipes his hands on his jeans,
and... it's very strange to see one expression on
Tim's face and another one entirely in his eyes.
He thinks about the mask Tim isn't wearing, and
wonders if there were people in Tim's life who,
perhaps, missed it more than he did himself.

Tim's expression turns curious for a moment, and
then he starts walking away again. Connor
follows, and isn't remotely surprised by the fact
that, when they stop, Tim has found both a
shadow and a position that will undoubtedly
allow him to watch the attendant's every move.

Connor makes an effort to stay out of his
line-of-sight. "I'm beginning to see... even
*more* of your point about the ways we deal
with secret identities." Connor grins ruefully. "It
didn't even occur to me that the button would
be for the trunk."

"It's actually for creating oil-slicks."

"I... see."

Tim grins at him. "You're just not used to making
up excuses for Bat-bikes. Now, if someone were
to ask questions about your pack..."

"And the large amount of weaponry inside it?"
Connor snorts and shifts it on his shoulders. "Most
people seem to assume I'm a student, presumably
carrying a large number of books."

Tim nods absently. "You'll be able to pull that off
for a while."

"I don't often have to. This is probably the longest
I've ever gone just *carrying*..." Connor shakes
his head. "None of that is important. Tim --"

"Dana wants me to come home. My father..."

Connor saw a film once in which a lake iced over.
It was played at speed, and was really a bit
disturbing -- like watching the act of a supervillain
as opposed to nature. And Tim's face... "Tim."

"You were right, to some extent. He *is* worried
about me. And my sanity, which was, of course,
broken when --" Tim hisses a breath in through
his teeth and... he doesn't clench his fists, or
snarl. He just tenses, all over.

"Don't --"

"I'm all right." Tim gaze doesn't -- quite -- meet
his own. Something else that would work better if
he were wearing a mask.

"Tim... please."

And Tim continues to stare past him for a moment,
and another, before exhaling with slow, visible
care and, finally, looking *at* him. "I am all right,
Connor. Just... I can see it now. What I'm going to
have to say to my father, and how little of it he'll
actually *hear*. And it pisses me off, because I
was right, too.

"And I didn't want to be."

"I don't suppose you'd let me hug you right now."

Tim snorts. "I think I'd prefer a spar." And Tim's
expression shifts again, grows distant and
speculative, and for a moment Connor thinks
that Tim will attack him *here*.

And then he isn't thinking about sparring, at all.
And Connor can see Tim not-thinking about it,
too.

"Bike's ready."

Connor forces himself to stand absolutely still
until he stops hearing those words as 'kiss me.'
And Tim just watches him, restless energy just
beneath the surface of his skin, and... damn.
"There are any number of reasons why I wish
you weren't going home."

Tim's smile is lazily predatory. "One of the things
I'll be... suggesting is that Winter Break would
be an excellent time for me to visit... friends. I
have a few of them on the west coast."

"I'd like that." And he's almost sure that several
cumulative days worth of meditation would
allow him to be sanguine about the time Tim
will undoubtedly want to spend with the Titans.

Tim grins at him, and takes a step closer, looking
up into his eyes. "How much do you care that
the attendant is watching us right now?"

"That depends on how much time we'll get to
spend alone before --"

Tim pulls him down into a hard kiss, bruising
and -- not fast. Enough time for Connor to get
over the shock, enough for him to open his
mouth for the stab and sweep of Tim's tongue,
enough to listen to the road noise fade under
the pound of his own heart, and enough to
give up and close his eyes.

Connor cups Tim's face and tilts it up more,
half-aware of the selfishness and barely aware
of the fact that it would be a bad idea to
tumble them to the concrete. He wants to
laugh and he wants to ask Tim if he's out of
his mind, if they *both* are.

He licks Tim's tongue as thoroughly as he can,
instead, and groans when Tim stills enough to
let him do it slowly.

And he doesn't pull away until he absolutely
has to.

"Not enough," Tim says.

"You asked me once to stay in Gotham."

Tim's eyes are dark and steady on his own. "I
meant it. But I won't try to convince you to leave
your family."

"I think..." Connor strokes Tim's cheekbones with
his thumbs. "I think I'm not prepared to be
grateful for that."

Tim closes his eyes and turns his face into
Connor's hand, briefly enough that it wouldn't
seem like anything more than Tim twisting away
from him. Connor's palm tingles from the brush
of Tim's mouth.

The attendant appears to paying a great deal of
attention to the pumps on the far side of the
station. Connor supposes it could be worse. He
settles himself on the bike and watches Tim
paying the man. The smile on his face is sweet,
ingenuous, and suggests bribery.

Connor reaches for their helmets, and... puts on
the red one.

Tim gives him a brief, unreadable look before
putting on the green one. "Kinky," he says, and
releases the kickstand.

"I can taste your breath." Connor blinks at
himself. "I mean --"

Tim sighs, breathily enough that it makes Connor
shiver despite the fact that it isn't, actually,
against his ear. "The fact that we're trying very
hard not to convince each other to misbehave is
going to limit the acceptable scope of
conversation."

"I... how do you feel about... sports?"

Tim snickers and pulls out of the gas station.

"On second thought, why don't you tell me how
many booby traps I'm inadvertently brushing
against every time I take a deep breath?"

"No, that's just going to turn me on. But try not to
press too firmly with your left calf."

"You might have mentioned that earlier."

"Mm," Tim says, laughter palpable in its silence,
and drives them back onto the highway.

*

Connor slips off the bike and stretches. The airport
is close to the coast and it's gotten windier. If he
concentrates, he can smell the sea.

If he concentrates on something other than the
way Tim's watching him.

Tim's hair is a sweaty, mussed tangle. It's the
only thing about him that seems young.

"I could wait with you."

"I thought Oracle booked me on the flight leaving
in..." He checks his watch. "Half an hour."

Tim scrubs a hand back through his hair, mussing
it more. "I'm tempted to test airport security."

"I'm tempted to watch you."

"I think that if I'm forced to spend one more week
not patrolling, or even *training*..." Tim shakes
his head. The smile on his face is incongruously
gentle, considering the thoughts Connor's sure
are going through his mind. But it only lasts a
moment before hardening into something else,
entirely. "And you won't even be here to distract
me."

Connor reaches out and presses his thumb
against Tim's lower lip. He can't decide whether
more of the thrill is in the fact that he can, the
fact that he *is*, or the fact that this is just one
more act Tim has let him perform.

*Encouraged*, with his stillness and the hunger
in his eyes.

"I'm going to call you when I get home."

"Yes."

"And... I hope to find a way to distract you."

Tim looks at him silently for a long moment, and
then deliberately lets his mouth fall open and
closes his teeth around the tip of Connor's thumb.
His tongue flicks at the nail once, twice. Again.

He doesn't so much as blink.

And then he lets go, and leans back.

"Tim."

"I never thanked you."

Connor laughs. "I'd have to disagree."

Tim shakes his head. "Not for... I never thanked you
for coming for me. For wanting to."

"Can you be thankful for another person's
emotions?" Connor frowns. "I don't think I'm saying
that right. But..."

Tim smiles at him. "Think of it this way -- how do
you feel about the fact that I'm falling for you?"

Connor blinks. "Grateful. Tim --"

"To the universe...?"

"No."

"My point," Tim says, and tucks the red helmet
away. And slips on the green. He watches Connor --
and even through the blacked-out visor of the
helmet, the watching is undeniable -- and... waits.

Connor nods and turns and walks into the terminal.
And forces himself to keep moving when he hears
the engine start up again.

*

Dear Connor,

Operation Winter Break is a go. There's only so
much I'm willing to talk about until O's little birds
get back to me about your system's security, but...

I'm willing to wait until you turn the comm I sent
you back on.

I find myself wondering how many people have
misused the things as badly as we are, over the
years. And then I find myself considering
self-lobotomy.

BG sends her regards, or possibly a nerve-strike.
It's hard to tell.

My parents are wondering when you plan on
coming back east, although, as they seem hopeful
that our relationship will prompt a certain degree
of 'settling down' -- for both of us -- I'd recommend
putting that off as long as humanly possible.

Whenever I'm feeling petty, or bitter, or likely to
do something selfish and/or violently idiotic, I think
of the look in your eyes.

It doesn't make me feel any better, or more
human, but.

It makes me want to.

Wrt the new work uniform we discussed, I'm not
sure how I feel about suspenders. I frankly don't
think I have the chest for it, and I'm not willing to
model anything like it until I know no cameras will
be present.

I look forward to you convincing me otherwise.

- Tim

Connor smiles at the screen and hits reply, and
pauses when he hears a sound behind him. He turns
to find his father leaning in the doorway.

"Your... partner?"

"Yes, Dad."

His father nods slowly. "The two of you are making
a go of it at long-distance, then?"

Connor isn't sure how to convince his father -- or
the rest of his family -- that there'd be no 'it,' if he
wasn't ready to do anything possible *to* make it
work, but then... he'd never been able to convince
them of that sort of thing before, either. "He's a
wonderful correspondent."

"Considering how much Mia's been bitching about
the time you spend on that thing, I suppose I
shouldn't be surprised."

Connor smiles. "But you are, anyway."

His father snorts. "Yes and no. I don't think anyone
with half a brain would screw around with the chance
to have a relationship with you, son. I just didn't think
the Bats had half a brain among them."

"You may have mentioned something along those
lines."

"Hm. So when do I get to meet him *without* the
mask and attitude problem?"

"He's coming out here to visit for the holidays,
Dad. I..." Think you'll like him, is what he means to
say, but he's honestly not sure. "I hope you come
to like him as much as I do."

His father scratches at his beard and smiles.
"Maybe not *quite* as much as that, son."

Connor works diligently to pretend he never had
those images.

"Look, I know I'm not doing this right. You... I
just want you to be happy."

"I am."

His father nods again. "And the ghoul? Any trouble
with him?"

"Not really. Tim's given the impression that he...
doesn't disapprove of me. Entirely."

"Well, isn't that *big* of him. Disapprove! I'll --"

"Dad."

His father's expression is narrow-eyed and
stubborn. Connor braces himself, lining up
several potentially soothing things he can say --
again -- but then his father... laughs. "*How*
many in-laws are you looking to wind up with,
kid?"

Connor smiles ruefully. "Tim's isn't the only e-mail
I have waiting for me. I'm not sure whether
Nightwing is welcoming me to the family or
threatening my life. Roy suggests both."

"Hm. Well, Roy's always gotten along with him.
Talk to him about it."

Connor nods. Whether Roy will interrogate him
for far, far too many personal details or invite
Tim out to get drunk is something else he isn't
sure of.

His father nods back at him. "I just have one
question. You'd mentioned the new Robin had been
your partner's --"

"I'm reasonably sure I didn't turn him gay, Dad."

"Are you *sure* about that? You shouldn't sell
yourself short, Connor. I mean --"

"Dad."

"Right, right. Well, I'll leave you to your love
letters. Try not to get the Fascist Bee Eye on
our cases for internet porn --"

"*Dad*."

His father winks at him. "Night, son."

"Good night, Dad."

He watches his father leave and turns back to
the computer. Three hours later and three thousand
miles away... he's not sure what Tim is doing.
He'd mentioned spending more time in
Bludhaven with Nightwing, but he'd also
suggested that his schedule wasn't entirely
normalized yet, in terms of how much
information his parents wanted from him before
he left for a night's patrol.

At the same time, it's not very difficult at all to
imagine Tim in the bedroom Connor hasn't seen
yet, perhaps working on something on his own
computer, and, perhaps, waiting.

Or waiting for their rather definitively scheduled
comm-time.

It's a feeling, vivid despite its basic irrationality.
Something like the sense that Tim isn't ever
entirely separate anymore, and that, perhaps,
every time Connor centers himself, he's centering
Tim, too.

Somewhere, Roy is choking on the sentiment
Connor thinks he must be sending out in waves.

Connor grins to himself again. He'd never claimed
to be anything other than a romantic.

end.

Additional notes: As you can see, I decided to use a great
deal of the canon -- and characterization choices --
Willingham has in this latest run of Robin. I have my
issues with it, but it's there, and it's canon, and it
really *does* make a few things easier to write...
even as I'm twitching madly.

(Especially about Jack Drake's characterization.)

Basically, this note is all about me saying: Just because
I write it, doesn't mean I believe it.

Or maybe I do. Tough call. ;-)

Title from Whitman. Excerpt:

The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color'd
sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch'd words of my voice, words loos'd to the eddies of the wind;
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;
You shall possess the good of the earth and sunó(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
 
 

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